Bangladesh ruling party defiant after vote bloodshed

Bangladesh ruling party defiant after vote bloodshed
Protesters shout slogans during a clash with police in Gaibandha January 5, 2014.

DHAKA - Bangladesh’s ruling party defied pressure Monday to open talks with the opposition after its walkover win in an election marred by unprecedented bloodshed, boycotts and low turnout.

Despite warnings that Sunday’s crushing victory did not amount to a mandate, the ruling Awami League vowed to “eliminate militancy” as the death toll from election-day violence rose to 24.

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which refused to field candidates in the election, intensified the pressure on the government by extending a general strike until Wednesday.

Newspapers said the government was leading Bangladesh towards disaster, but one of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s top lieutenants ruled out early dialogue with the BNP to agree a framework for a new vote.

“We’re not thinking about talks right now,” Environment Minister Hasan Mahmud told AFP.

“Our top priority now is to form a government and contain violence. We have to eliminate violence and militancy to give the people a breather.” The Awami League cruised to victory in Sunday’s election after the BNP and 20 other opposition parties refused to take part.

With all but a handful of seats still to be declared, the Awami League had won around 80 percent of the 300 parliamentary seats with allies mopping up the rest.

But few were in the mood to celebrate after the carnage of election day when nearly 600 polling stations were torched or trashed.

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