Clashes between supporters of Bangladesh's ruling party and its opponents killed two people and wounded almost a dozen Sunday, a government official and police said, as the country voted in a general election after violence-plagued campaigns.
At least 12 people have been killed in poll-related violence on Sunday as voting began across Bangladesh amid allegations by the ruling Awami League and opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of attacks on supporters and candidates.
On Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on all stakeholders in Bangladesh's election "to ensure an environment free of violence, intimidation and coercion before, during and after the elections".
It is brimming with confidence that its economic record will sweep it to election victory.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was the first voter at the Dhaka City College centre in the capital where her lawyer nephew and party candidate Fazle Nur Taposh was a contender. "Each vote you cast will pave the way for freedom of democracy and people", said Rizvi.
Hasina was first elected prime minister in 1996 but she struggled to emerge from the shadow of her father during her first term and lost the 2001 contest. Others were seen trickling into polling booths, where posters bearing the ruling Awami League's "boat" symbol far outnumbered those of the opposition.
"Members and supporters of the main opposition parties have been arrested, killed, even disappeared, creating an atmosphere of fear and repression that is not consistent with credible elections", the group's Asia director Brad Adams said.
This election, some 104 million people are eligible to vote, including many young, first-time voters. The opposition parties have alleged that thousands of its leaders and activists have been arrested to weaken them.
The BNP led the campaign for the deployment of more than 600,000 soldiers, border patrol, paramilitary and police officers who have fanned out across the country in advance of the vote.
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At least one of the victims was attacked by a machete-carrying group, police said.
After intensive efforts by the BNP to get Khaleda out of jail failed, her son, Tarique Rahman, who is wanted in Bangladesh for masterminding a 2004 plot to kill Hasina, appealed to women voters on Facebook. A total of 1,860 candidates from nearly 40 political parties are competing in the election.
Bangladeshi polling officials accompanied by police personnel wait inside a bus before leaving for a polling station on the eve of the general elections in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018.
The Awami League leader won a landslide victory in 2008 and the BNP boycotted the 2014 election - saying it was not free and fair - gifting her a return to power.
At 2:30 a.m. Friday, Zahiruddin Swapan, a two-time member of Parliament from the BNP, kept The Associated Press on the phone as he attempted to negotiate with security officials whom he said had cordoned off his house to postpone a raid till daybreak.
The Awami League has denied any role in the violence. "Ever since the election was announced, the government has embarked on a crackdown on civil society, the opposition and the media, undermining any semblance of a democratic process", read the statement.
Election at a constituency has been postponed due to death of a candidate. Bangladesh's telecommunications regulator shut down mobile internet services nationwide to prevent possible protests from being organised. "'Branded authoritarian by the Western media now is a badge of honour, '" Wazed, who lives in Washington D.C. and runs an IT business in the United States, said in the prime minister's official residence in Dhaka.
But critics accuse her of authoritarianism and crippling the opposition - including arch-rival Khaleda Zia who is serving 17 years in prison on graft charges - to cling on to power.