20 killed as violence mars Bangladesh elections (Roundup)

Dhaka, Jan 5 (IANS) At least 20 people were killed and many injured as violence overshadowed polling in Bangladesh’s 10th parliamentary elections Sunday.

Counting of votes started soon after the polling, which started at 8 a.m., concluded at 4 p.m.
At least 18 opposition activists were killed as violence rocked the polling process across the country, The Daily Star reported.
Two others, an election official and a security force member, were also killed.
Jobaidur Rahman (45), assistant presiding officer at a polling centre in Thakurgaon district, 400 km from here, was killed by unidentified attackers hours before the elections began, Xinhua reported.
According to The Daily Star, Md Wahed Ali, a member of Bangladesh Ansar paramilitary force, was beaten to death by opposition activists as the law enforcers were trying to prevent the party men from attacking a polling centre in Patgram upazila in Dinajpur district.
However, the country’s main opposition, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) claimed that 21 opposition activists were killed in Sunday’s violence.
The BNP has called a nationwide 48-hour strike from Monday morning demanding cancellation of Sunday’s polls.
Osman Faruq, a BNP spokesperson, announced the strike at a press briefing, saying the strike was also aimed at protesting the “death of 21 opposition men” Sunday, Xinhua reported.
Though immediate figures were not available, the Election Commission said voter turnout was low because several parties chose not to contest in it
“The voter turnout will be low because some parties are not contesting,” bdnews24.com quoted Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad as saying.
However, he said voting was conducted “fairly”.
The Election Commission said that polling at nearly 150 centres was suspended due to violence.
The BNP said empty polling stations have proved that people have rejected the country’s 10th parliamentary elections held Sunday.
“The whole world has seen polling centres without any voters. People have said ‘no’ to this controversial single-party election and have rejected it,” bdnews24.com quoted Mirza Fakhrul Islam, BNP’s acting secretary general, as saying Sunday.
He added that the road, rail and waterways blockade across the country would continue until their movement succeeded.
The BNP-led opposition alliance has been enforcing a non-stop nationwide blockade since Jan 1. It also called a 48-hour general strike from Saturday to thwart the polls.
However, the ruling Awami League party Sunday said the elections were held properly, despite the opposition’s boycott.
“The holding of the election has ended all speculation and foiled all conspiracies to thwart it,” bdnews24.com quoted Awami League leader Tofail Ahmed as saying at a press conference after polling ended.
“The elections were held properly. The spirit of Bangalee’s (people’s) liberation war has won through this election,” Ahmed said.
The Awami League leader claimed the voter turnout was satisfactory despite the violence.
“The people have rejected her (Khaleda Zia’s) call and went to the polling centres to cast their votes,” he said.
“A vacuum would have been created if the polls had not been held… Khaleda Zia chose the path of violence. She wanted a mass-revolution. But it had no links with the people. That’s not the way for a revolution,” he added.
Mired in controversy, the parliamentary elections were held in just 147 out of 300 seats in 59 out of 64 districts of the country. As many as 153 candidates have already been elected unopposed amid a boycott by the main opposition party and its allies.
More than half of the country’s 100 million voters did not get the opportunity to vote in the elections that have already sealed a victory for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina after the opposition boycotted the contest.
Some 21 parties, including former prime minister Khaleda Zia’s BNP boycotted the elections over Hasina’s refusal to introduce a non-party interim government to oversee the elections.
Since Nov 26, the opposition alliance has enforced nationwide blockade for 22 days in phases, demanding that the elections be scrapped and fresh polls held under a caretaker government.