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Poll panel ignores Awami demands

Dhaka, Dec. 7 (Reuters): Bangladesh’s election commission said today parliamentary elections will be held on January 23 and the voters’ list will be updated next week as demanded by a 14-party alliance led by the Awami League.

The commission had earlier set the election for January 21, but it prompted protests from the alliance which had been demanding a revised voters’ list and removal of election officials, accused of a bias towards its main rival.

Election commission secretary Abdur Rashid Sarkar said according to the new schedule, the last date for filing of nominations would be December 21 and the deadline for withdrawing applications would be December 28.

“The new polling schedules are okay, but biased election commissioners should be made inactive for a credible election,” Awami League general secretary Abdul Jalil said without elaborating.

The Awami League has led violent protests and blockades, demanding reforms in the election commission to ensure a free and fair poll.

Its main rival, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), had insisted the vote go ahead as originally scheduled and accused Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina of trying to subvert the democratic process in the impoverished nation of 140 million.

“We have accepted the new schedule as it has not gone beyond the time frame provided by the constitution,” BNP secretary general Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan said.

Sarkar said election officials and volunteers would go from door to door across Bangladesh to update the voters' list by December 15.

Bangladesh’s constitution dictates that election must be held within three months after expiry of the previous government’s tenure.

BNP leader Begum Khaleda Zia ended her five-year tenure as Prime Minister on October 28, handing power to a caretaker administration headed by President Iajuddin Ahmed. At least 44 people have been killed and hundreds injured in clashes between rival activists across the country since Khaleda’s tenure expired. The caretaker authority asked the commission to announce the new poll schedule after consulting the major political parties, officials said.

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