Supporters attack rival motorcade in Bangladesh ahead of polls

The Dec. 29 vote will end the rule of a military-backed interim government.

Supporters attack rival motorcade in Bangladesh ahead of polls

Candidates in Monday's Bangladesh election to return the country to democracy have traded charges of corruption and vote-rigging, while an attack on a former president's motorcade fanned fears of more widespread violence.

Police meanwhile said they had found some 40 bombs around the country and detained over a dozen suspects linked to possible violence plots.

Police also said a motorcade carrying former military ruler Hossain Mohammad Ershad, chief of the Jatiya Party and Hasina's election ally, was attacked by rival supporters throwing pieces of brick.

Witnesses said about 20 people were injured and several vehicles damaged in the incident, but Ershad was unhurt.

The motorcade was on the way to a poll rally at his Rangpur home district on Saturday.

A scheduled vote two years ago was abandoned due to political violence, but police have played down the threat to a smooth election this time.

The Dec. 29 vote will end the rule of a military-backed interim government that one top contender, former premier Begum Khaleda Zia, says is conspiring to help her bitter rival Sheikh Hasina win.

For her part Hasina, seen by some analysts as the likely winner, accuses Khaleda and her sons of massive corruption and vote tampering.

Hasina's Awami League and Khaleda's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) alternated in power for 15 years till 2006, and are key contenders again.

The election is a crucial test for the country, where some 45 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and frequent floods and cyclones add to economic woes.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon reiterated his call for a peaceful electoral process in Bangladesh, a spokesperson for Ban said in New York on Saturday.

Ban appealed to all political parties to continue to demonstrate responsibility, participate fully and honour the will of the Bangladeshi people, the spokesperson added.

Military rule, politically motivated violence and strikes have often disrupted democracy over Bangladesh's 37 years of independence, while elections have been rife with cheating.

This time the interim government and Election Commission have introduced electoral reforms. International monitors say so far, the election process looks credible.

Turmoil

As the midnight Saturday deadline neared for campaigning to end the rhetoric has stepped up.

"The BNP, Khaleda Zia and her sons had pushed the country into serious political turmoil and ruined the economy," Hasina told a rally in the capital Dhaka late on Friday.

Khaleda, speaking to supporters at about a dozen campaign gatherings overnight, accused Hasina and her party of causing irreparable damage to Bangladesh and its economy during her five-year rule to 2001.

"They have a history of giving false assurances and not delivering them while the BNP helped the people through many bad times," Khaleda said.

She addresses her last pre-election rally in Dhaka on Saturday afternoon. Hasina winds up her campaigning in the port city of Chittagong.

The candidates' charges against one another may have set the stage for the losers or their supporters to claim they were cheated, as has happened in past elections sparking protests, strikes and deadly violence.

Even without such incidents, the winner will face major challenges in reducing endemic corruption and trying to improve the economy in the face of the global slowdown.

Ahead of the vote, the authorities have deployed security personnel to protect Hasina and Khaleda. Both say their lives are at risk.

Bangladesh security forces raiding different hideouts have seized some 40 bombs including improvised devices, and arrested over a dozen suspected Islamist militants in the country's north over the past two days.

"Despite these seizures and arrests, we don't think it is a big threat against elections," national police chief Nur Mohammad told Reuters on Saturday.

Reuters
Last Mod: 27 Aralık 2008, 15:52
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