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Bangla deploys army

- Troops to contain violence, Khaleda home under siege

Dhaka, Dec. 26 (PTI): Bangladesh today deployed the army across the country to contain violence ahead of the January 5 elections as nine policemen were injured in attacks by Opposition activists.

“The armed forces have been deployed in aid to civil administration,” an army statement said. The troops would act “as a striking force” until January 9 in line with the Election Commission’s decision.

In Dhaka, security forces today laid a siege around the residence of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chief Khaleda Zia ahead of an anti-government march planned on Sunday in the capital. They are demanding the postponement of the election.

Witnesses said police in riot gear took positions around Khaleda’s house barring the entry of party activists and visitors into the Gulshan area premises. However, it was not clear if the 68-year-old former Prime Minister was under house arrest.

The army would be initially stationed at the district headquarters but would gradually spread to nodal points of all districts, sub-districts and metropolitan areas, the army statement said.

It made no mention of the number of troops that would be deployed. However, EC officials hinted they could be as high as 50,000 and include navy and air force personnel.

EC spokesman S.M. Asaduzzaman said troops would be deployed in at least 59 of the country’s 64 districts to ensure security during the polls, which are being boycotted by the BNP and its allies. The poll panel had earlier decided to deploy the troops but the announcement came after suspected BNP activists and its hardline ally Jamaat-e-Islami hurled crude bombs on a police van and injured nine policemen in Rajshahi.

“Two of the wounded constables received injuries in their head... they are being treated in an intensive care unit of Rajshahi Medical College Hospital,” police official Ziaur Rahman said. Unidentified persons also set the office of the chief executive of Laksam sub-district in central Comilla on fire. Officials said no one was injured in the attack.

The violence has escalated since the BNP-led 18-party Opposition alliance refused to take part in the election after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed rejected their demands to quit and instal a neutral caretaker government to oversee the polls.

The government last week called out the paramilitary Border Guard Bangladesh along with the Rapid Action Battalion and police to contain the violence that has claimed around 130 lives since October.

Khaleda’s international affairs adviser Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury was quoted as saying in media reports that “since yesterday she has been under virtual house arrest”.

He said it was part of a government move to foil the December 29 “march for democracy”. However, police officials rejected the claim and said they were ordered to beef up the security at her residence.

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