| A man basks in the winter sun in Dhaka. At least 56 people have died during a cold snap in poor areas of northern Bangladesh this week, local officials said. They added that nearly 40 deaths were reported on Thursday alone, when the temperature dropped to 6 degrees Celsius. (Reuters)
Dhaka, Jan. 4 (PTI): Bangladesh’s interim government today urged the defence forces to clamp down on any attempt to disrupt the general elections.
The 14-party alliance led by the Awami League has planned a series of protests ahead of the polls.
During a meeting with the three chiefs of the defence forces, interim President Iajuddin Ahmed urged the forces to be vigilant during the elections, a presidential spokesman said.
The government had late yesterday warned of “drastic action” against “attempts” to defy the constitution or create a law and order situation.
“The role of the law enforcement agencies will be to protect the interests of those who will take part in the election, not those who will try to defy the constitution,” a home ministry spokesman said after Ahmed held an emergency meeting with his advisory committee on law and order.
Former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s alliance decided to form committees to carry out protests as her rival Begum Khaleda Zia of the BNP launched her election campaign.
“We have asked our leaders and workers to constitute committees at every poll centre to resist the farcical election,” alliance leader Hasanul Haque of the Jatiya Party said.
Yesterday, the alliance announced that it planned to boycott the elections that begin on January 22, accusing the interim government charged with organising the polls of favouring her opponents.
Ahmed said police and army troops, called out earlier to assist the civil administration, would take control of the streets ahead of the alliance’s protest plans on January 7 and 8. “No siege will be allowed,” he said.
Khaleda launched her election campaign today outside Dhaka unfazed by the boycott call that diplomats and analysts said could plunge Bangladesh into greater uncertainty and chaos.
“Authorities will use army troops from January 10 to seize illegal weapons ahead of the elections,” Abdur Rashid Sarkar, secretary of the election commission, said.
Businessmen feared that political turmoil in the country of 140 million people could derail an economy that is projected to grow 7 per cent in the year to June 2007.
“We have no alternative to holding the elections on the due date,” an election commission official said today.
Two other parties announced a boycott: the Jatiya Party of former army ruler Hossain Mohammad Ershad and the Liberal Democratic Party of former President A.Q.M. Badruddoza Chowdhury.