Bangladesh opposition confirms poll boycott on deadline day

Bangladesh opposition confirms poll boycott on deadline day
A Bangladeshi policeman walks along the street during a blockade organised by Bangladesh Nationalist Party activists and their supporters in Dhaka on November 30, 2013.

DHAKA - Bangladesh's 18-party opposition coalition confirmed Monday it would boycott a general election scheduled for January, making the announcement hours before the nominations deadline and plunging the country into renewed political uncertainty.

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) announced the decision amid growing street violence that has left 51 people dead since late October and a string of strikes that have paralysed large parts of the country.

Of the total, 21 have been killed since November 25, when the election date was announced.

Another protester died in the western town of Natore on Monday during clashes between hundreds of BNP supporters and ruling party activists, police said.

"There is no question of us filing nominations for the January 5 election under the present circumstances. We're not going to take part in the January 5 elections," Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury, a BNP vice president, told AFP.

Nominations close at 5 pm (1100 GMT) Monday and officials said no BNP officials had filed by midday.

Chowdhury said the BNP and its 17 smaller allies including the country's largest Islamic party would only change their minds "if the polls are organised by a non-party, neutral government".

The BNP, led by two-times ex-premier Khaleda Zia, has been demanding that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina quit and make way for a "non-party and impartial" chief executive to oversee the polls.

It believes any polls held under Hasina will be rigged.

Four free and fair polls have been held under caretaker governments in the past two decades, but Hasina scrapped the system in 2011 - arguing that it was unconstitutional and could pave the way for military coups.

The prime minister has instead formed an interim multi-party cabinet which includes her allies.

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