Paramilitaries deployed for mass Bangladesh rallies
Paramilitary officers stand guard during a nationwide strike in Dhaka on April 22, 2012
Tensions have been rising since Hasina's ruling Awami League (AL) party rejected an October 24 deadline set by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) for accepting its demands.
The AL instead called on its activists to take to the streets to face off the opposition.
BNP leader and two times ex-premier Khaleda Zia said the government was "illegal" as of Friday, citing a legal provision that requires a neutral caretaker government to be set up three months before general elections, slated for January 2014.
But the ruling AL abolished the provision in 2011, instead handing the job of overseeing polls to a reformed Election Commission.
Police said several thousands of supporters had already converged at the Suhrawardy Udyan, a national memorial in central Dhaka where Zia was scheduled to speak later.
"We're expecting at least a million people in the rally," said BNP spokesman Rizvi Ahmed.
The government has deployed thousands of police and paramilitary border guards in the capital Dhaka, in the port city of Chittagong where the ruling party has called a rival rally, and other potential flashpoints.
"We've sent BGB (Border Guard Bangladesh) troops to 20 major cities and towns," BGB director colonel Hafiz Ahsan told AFP.
"So far we don't have any report of violence," deputy commissioner of Dhaka police Maruf Hossain told AFP.
While it has a long history of political violence, this year has been the deadliest since Bangladesh gained independence in 1971.
At least 150 people have been killed since January after a controversial court began handing down death sentences to Islamist leaders allied to ex-premier Zia.
An ex-mayor of Dhaka fuelled tensions last week after he asked opposition supporters to join the protests armed with machetes and axes.
Fearing clashes, Bangladesh police banned all political rallies and street protests in major cities indefinitely. But on Thursday night they allowed the BNP to hold the Friday rallies after the party vowed to defy the ban.
The last time Bangladesh's two main parties fought street battles was in late 2006 when dozens were killed, causing the country to shut down for weeks before the army stepped in to cancel elections and set up a military-backed caretaker government.
The seed for the current crisis was sown in 2010 when the Hasina government announced there would be no caretaker administration at the next elections, arguing that such a system enables the army to seize power in a country which has witnessed at least 19 coups since 1975.
The BNP has said it will boycott polls without a caretaker government, arguing that the system has delivered four successive free and fair polls since 1990 when democracy was restored after over a decade of military rule.
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