Polling stations and police attacked as Bangladesh votes

Polling stations and police attacked as Bangladesh votes
Bangladeshi riot police patrol the neighborhood where several local polling station are located in the old city of Dhaka on January 5, 2014.

DHAKA - Protestors firebombed polling stations and attacked police as Bangladesh went ahead on Sunday with a violence-plagued election boycotted by the opposition.

With the fear of attacks expected to limit turnout and around 150 people killed in the build-up to the vote, tens of thousands of troops were deployed across the country.

But police said that more than 100 polling stations had been attacked since late Saturday into early Sunday, and officers guarding the booths had also been targeted.

The Awami League government, headed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, has accused the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of orchestrating the violence, and has kept its leader under de facto house arrest while she fumes over what is effectively a one-party contest.

Some of the worst violence was in the northern district of Bogra, which is a BNP stronghold.

"We've seen thousands of protestors attack polling booths and our personnel at a number of locations with Molotov cocktails and petrol bombs," Bogra's police chief Syed Abu Sayem told AFP.

"So far, they have set fire to 15 polling booths and attacked a police station... The situation is extremely volatile."

There were similar reports in the northern Rangpur district, where police said they had shot one person dead as protesters snatched stacks of ballot papers.

With the opposition trying to enforce a general strike as part of a strategy to wreck the polls, officials admit turnout could be worse than the previous low of 26 per cent in a rigged 1996 election.

AFP correspondents in the capital Dhaka said there was no sign of queues outside the polling stations when they opened.

The outcome of the contest is not in doubt as voting is taking place in only 147 of the 300 parliamentary constituencies. Awami League candidates or allies have a clear run in the remaining 153 seats.

The government says it has to hold the elections to keep in line with the constitution, but the BNP, the largest of the 21 parties who are refusing to take part, has called them a "scandalous farce".

Hasina in turn has accused BNP leader Khaleda Zia and her party of trying to hold the country hostage by staging a series of strikes and blockades, including on Sunday.

Zia has been confined to her home for the last week, with riot police manning barricades outside her Dhaka residence.

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