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Since 1st March, 1999
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Poll chief to stay, Awami not happy

Dhaka, Nov. 1 (Reuters): Bangladesh’s chief election commissioner says he has been asked to stay on to oversee next year’s poll, raising the spectre of renewed violence after the former Opposition accused him of bias.

The 14-party alliance of former Opposition parties says chief election commissioner M.A. Aziz backed the previous Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) government and would attempt to rig the January general election.

“The President has asked me to carry on, and take necessary steps to hold a free and fair election within the stipulated time,” Aziz said late yesterday.

Violent protests erupted last week over who should lead a caretaker administration to see the fractious country through to the January vote, and analysts fear more trouble after President Iajuddin Ahmed’s endorsement of Aziz in the post.

Today, the former main Opposition Awami League renewed calls for Iajuddin to dismiss Aziz and his deputies.

“It is the responsibility of the President to ensure a fair and free election by accepting the demands immediately,” Awami leader Sheikh Hasina said. Hasina and her allies have given Iajuddin until Friday to prove his neutrality in the impoverished country of 140 million.

“Otherwise, we will go back to the streets,” Awami general secretary Abdul Jalil said. At least 27 people died in two days of violent street protests.

Iajuddin, who installed himself as caretaker head on Sunday after the political parties failed to agree on a candidate, has already sacked or transferred 27 senior bureaucrats.

“The country still faces a potential threat of renewed violence as the Awami League is trying to push too many demands in a bid to win the election. The government may find it difficult to accommodate them all,” said Ataur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Political Science Association. Yesterday, the President appointed 10 advisers to ministerial roles, including former army and police chiefs and a newspaper editor.

They met the President today over their first formal meeting, and later said they had discussed challenges ahead and ways to overcome them.

“We are confident to steer the administration without any bias towards a free and fair election within three months,” said adviser C.M. Shafi Sami, a former foreign secretary.

“We will work with utmost neutrality for a credible election.”

“They are all non-partisan and efficient and we hope they can conduct a credible election,” BNP Secretary-General Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan told reporters today.

The caretaker authority replaced Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia whose five-year mandate ended last Friday. She headed a four-party coalition government.

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