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Bangla to hold polls on Jan. 5

- BNP calls 48-hour transport strike

Dhaka, Nov. 25 (Agencies): Bangladesh will hold a general election on January 5, the Election Commission said today, triggering protests by activists of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) which announced a 48-hour nationwide blockade of roads, rail and waterways starting 6am tomorrow.

Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmed announced the election date in a televised statement. “We decided to hold the election on January 5 next year,” Ahmed said. He said the army would be deployed during the election.

The announcement of the election date comes during a tense standoff between the Awami League and the BNP over the arrangement for conducting the polls.

This month, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina formed a caretaker cabinet to oversee the election but the BNP says it is not impartial.

Today, Hasina renewed her appeal to the BNP to join the “all-party” government, saying she is willing to offer any ministry party chief Begum Khaleda Zia wants in the cabinet.

The fact that Bangladesh was heading towards a non-participatory election was certain as both the Awami League and the BNP have hardened their stands even as leaders of both parties kept repeating that they were keen to resolve the crisis through dialogue.

The BNP-led 18-party Opposition rejected the general elections road-map after an emergency meeting at Khaleda’s Gulshan residence

“We ask that the schedule be kept on hold until a settlement is reached,” Opposition spokesperson Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said at a news conference late in the evening.

Though security was intensified in Dhaka and other sensitive places in the country immediately after the announcement of the poll schedule, there were reports of vandalism by BNP supporters from parts of Dhaka, Barisal, Sylhet and Pabna.

“This is just the beginning… More violence will follow as BNP was never interested in the polls. Now that the poll schedule has been announced, they will do everything to derail it,” said a prominent member of the civil society in Dhaka, who refused to be quoted in view of the volatile political environment in the country. Ahmed said the Election Commission, a statutory independent body, had waited for the two major parties to reach an understanding on the electoral system “but now we don’t have time to delay further”.

The poll panel, he said, was under obligation to hold the election by January 24, 2014, under a constitutional deadline. “We repeatedly urged the major parties to reach a consensus to fulfil the nation’s expectations. We still hope they will not ignore the expectations,” Ahmed said.

He asked people to participate in the polls, saying the army would be mobilised to ensure security.

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