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Despite protest, Bangla panel calls January poll

Dhaka, Nov. 27: The Bangladesh election commission today announced that polls in the country will be held on January 21, 2007, despite the objections of the political alliance led by the Awami League.

Sheikh Hasina, chief of the Awami League and a likely top contender in the polls, had asked the interim government in charge of overseeing the vote not to unveil poll details before reorganising the election commission.

The alliance has accused the election commission of being biased towards Begum Khaleda Zia, who ended her five-year term as Prime Minister in October, and her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

But the interim government, headed by the President Iajuddin Ahmed, rejected Hasina’s objections, sparking fears of more violent protests.

Today, thousands of activists from the Awami-led alliance demonstrated in central Dhaka demanding the resignation of the election commissioners.

The activists even protested in front of Ahmed’s official residence. The police erected barbed wire barricades to keep the demonstrators away from the President’s home. No violence was reported.

The election commission has set December 10 as the last day for filing nominations.The last date for withdrawing the nomination is December 21. This will be the ninth parliamentary polls in Bangladesh.

Abdul Jalil, general secretary of the Awami League and coordinator of the alliance, said Bangladeshis would not accept the election schedule, announced in “haste to stage a farcical vote”. He said the alliance would give a formal decision on the “abrupt move” by the commission after a meeting of alliance leaders.

Election commission secretary Abdur Rashid Sarkar said the schedule was announced keeping in view the short time ahead of the polls.

“We have several days of public holidays in December, which further curtailed the available time. But we need to complete all preparations to hold the election timely,” he added.

The Awami League alleged that the voters’ lists prepared by the election commission had excluded its supporters. The list contains at least 10.4 million fake voters who could be used to rig the polls in favour of Khaleda’s BNP.

The Awami alliance also said the voting lists must be updated before elections can be held.

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