Updated: 12/25/2013 03:00 | By Agence France-Presse

Bangladesh opposition calls mass march to derail polls

Bangladesh opposition leader Khaleda Zia called Tuesday on citizens to stage a mass march to the capital Dhaka in an escalation of protests aimed at derailing controversial January elections.


Bangladesh opposition calls mass march to derail polls

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at the ninth Asia-Europe (ASEM 9) summit in Vientiane on November 6, 2012

Zia's call stoked tensions in the impoverished country, where more than 100 people have died in clashes since late October when the opposition launched the protests to force Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to resign before next month's poll.

Violence flared up in the capital hours after Zia's speech as a police constable was killed and two policemen were injured after unidentified attackers hurled a petrol bomb at a van carrying officers, sub-inspector Azam Ali told AFP. 

"I urge all citizens to march to Dhaka on December 29. This march is to say 'no' to these farcical elections and to say 'yes' to democracy," Zia, a two-time former prime minister, said in a speech. 

"Wherever you are, carry a red and green national flag and march to Dhaka.  We call this a march for democracy," she said in the capital. 

She asked the citizens to form "protest committees" in every village to foil the polls.

The centre-left government insisted it would go ahead with the January 5 election despite a boycott by opposition parties and major foreign nations announcing they won't send any election observers.

On Monday, the United States joined the European Union and the Commonwealth countries in refusing to send observers to monitor polls, denting the credibility of the elections.

Both the US and EU have raised questions about the polls as the winners of more than half of the seats in the 300-seat parliament have already been declared because they face no opponents.

It means technically that Hasina's Awami League government could form a government even before ballots are cast as the party and its allies have won 154 seats.

Zia's main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its 17 allies including the country's largest Islamist outfit, Jamaat-e-Islami party, called the uncontested victories "the worst scandal in the country's election history".

"It's not an election. It's shameless selection," Zia said.

The opposition parties said they are boycotting the polls because they fear the elections will be rigged by Hasina.

The opposition wants her to quit and make way for a neutral caretaker government to hold the polls in line with the four previous elections.

Hasina has rejected the opposition demand, saying the caretaker government system is unconstitutional.

Last week, she ruled out changes to the election schedule, mocking Zia, her bitter rival for nearly three decades, that she had missed the election train.

Zia's call for a mass march comes as the country has been reeling from the deadliest political violence since its independence from Pakistan in 1971.  

At least 265 people have died since January in violence that has pitted opposition activists against police and ruling party supporters. At least 115 of them have been killed in the past two months when Zia stepped up her campaign to topple Hasina.

Zia said she was still ready "to continue talks" with Hasina to resolve the crisis after three rounds of UN-brokered talks between the two major parties yielded no result.

But Zia accused the government of not being sincere, charging that "it wants to cling to power at any cost".

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