Bangladesh PM says new polls depend on opposition ending violence

Bangladesh PM says new polls depend on opposition ending violence

DHAKA - A day after rolling to victory in an election boycotted by the main opposition and plagued by deadly unrest, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina held to her stance that fresh polls could be called only if her rivals put a halt to violence.

With the opposition already having called a 48-hour strike and seven people killed in clashes on Monday, the crisis showed no sign of easing, risking further unrest and damage to the $22 billion (S$28 billion) garment industry that accounts for 80 per cent of exports.

Hasina's Awami League ended with more than two-thirds of seats in a contest that was shunned by international observers as flawed and derided as a farce by the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). With fewer than half the seats contested, the outcome was never in doubt.

"An election can happen any time when BNP comes for a dialogue, but they must stop violence," Hasina, 64, said on the lawn at her official residence.

Many BNP leaders are in jail or in hiding, and party chief Begum Khaleda Zia says she is under virtual house arrest, which the government denies.

"She (Hasina) has not given any hope or suggested any practical options for addressing the serious political stalemate that is affecting the country," said Osman Farruk, a former education minister and an adviser to Khaleda.

Hasina and Khaleda, 68, have alternated as prime minister for all but two of the past 22 years. The two are bitter rivals.

Ataur Rahman, a professor of political science at Dhaka University, said the standoff imperils the momentum of five years of robust growth in the impoverished nation of 160 million.

The economy grew six per cent in the fiscal year that ended in June, and multilateral agencies expect growth of 5.5 to 5.8 per cent in the current year.

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