Campaign attacks heighten fears for Bangladesh election

DHAKA: New clashes marred the deadly Bangladesh election campaign on Wednesday as opposition leaders stepped up complaints over the organisation of what they consider a one-sided vote. Youths on motorbikes carrying a banner of the ruling Awami League attacked an opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party candidate with knives, hours after a BNP leader was wounded in clashes between rival party activists, police said. Habibur Rahman Habib, a BNP candidate for parliament, was attacked by 15 men on motorbikes in the northern town of Ishwardi on Wednesday, according to police. "He was hacked three times on his thigh. He was grievously injured but is out of danger," local police chief Bahauddin Faruqi told AFP. Late Tuesday, senior BNP leader Goyeshwar Roy was injured as BNP and Awami League activists clashed in Dhaka district, police superintendent S.M. Shafiur Rahman told AFP. Media images showed blood pouring down Roy's face. The campaign for Sunday's vote has seen daily confrontations between supporters of the two main parties, which has further soured their bitter constitutional showdown. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is seeking a record fourth term, but her party has been accused of organising the arrest and intimidation of opposition candidates to boost her chances. The government denies any wrongdoing. The BNP, whose leader Khaleda Zia is in jail, and its main ally claim more than 11,500 of their supporters have been detained since the election was called on November 8. Hundreds of their supporters have been injured in fighting, they say. Thousands arrested Six people—four BNP supporters and two from the Awami League—have been killed in the campaign violence. The BNP-led opposition coalition demanded the resignation of the chief election commissioner Nurul Huda, accusing him of supporting ruling party followers in the unrest. "It is not possible to get a non-partisan and neutral election from him and there is no possibility of fair treatment from him," opposition spokesman Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said. Opposition parties walked out of a meeting with Huda late Tuesday, and have demanded a neutral election commissioner take over for Sunday's vote. They say the mass arrest of their followers—8,243 from the BNP and 3,600 from the Jamaat-e-Islami—was intended to create a "climate of fear". Police have not confirmed the number of arrests during the campaign but insist all those detained had warrants against them. "We never target any individual unless they break the law," said police spokesman Sohel Rana. There was no comment from Chief Election Commissioner on the violence, but another election commissioner urged police "act neutrally and without discrimination to all." "Don't take any undesirable action by being too enthusiastic," commissioner Mahbub Talukder said in a statement. "Refrain from acting in a partisan manner in the polls. Uphold the dignity and righteousness of your uniform... I am worried over the growing number of incidents of clashes and violence ahead of the national election." Hasina and Zia have been political foes since the introduction of democracy in 1991. They have traditionally alternated in power but Hasina's current rule has lasted since 2009 and Zia's jail term this year prevented her from taking part in the election. The ruling party has emphasised the economic growth in Hasina's last 10 years in power to justify her reelection. The BNP had hoped the deployment of 30,000 troops on Monday would improve security across the Muslim-majority country of 165 million. But Ahmed said its candidates were attacked in 28 constituencies on Tuesday, leaving more than 100 people injured. Hasina won a 2008 poll by a landslide and the BNP boycotted the 2014 election—saying it was not free and fair—gifting her a return to power. Civil society and rights groups have accused Hasina's government of silencing dissent and muzzling the press through a strict digital-security law.
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