Tue, Dec 30, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Voters flock poll booths in Bangladesh

SO FAR, SO GOOD Although some people were injured yesterday, there was no repetition of the widespread violence that has marked past elections

AGENCIES , DHAKA

Polling booths closed yesterday in Bangladesh in the country’s first nationwide elections since 2001, an official said.

Election commission secretary Humayun Kabir said doors to the 35,000 polling centers around the country closed at 4pm local time with a total voter turnout of 70 percent expected.

“Voting happened in [a] very peaceful and festive mood. Two hours before [the] polls closed, 60 percent of eligible voters had cast their ballots. There’s been a very high turnout,” he said, adding that some votes would be cast after the doors closed because lines had been so long.

Some 81 million voters were eligible to cast ballots in the election, which will end two years of rule by an army-backed regime.

Despite Kabir’s comments, at least 12 people were injured in election violence yesterday and one candidate had his car windscreen shattered by a brick, police said.

Ehasanul Haq Milon, a deputy minister in the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led government, escaped unhurt when an angry voter threw the brick at his vehicle police chief Krishnapada Roy said.

In Madaripur district, in the south of the country, at least 12 people were injured in fighting between backers of independent and Awami League party candidates, area police chief Debdas Bhattacharya said.

Officials halted voting at a polling centre in Noakhali, also in the south, after a presiding officer was assaulted and ballot papers stolen, police said.

The private ATN Bangla television said 10 people were also hurt in clashes in northern Jamalpur district. Police said one man was arrested but were unable to confirm the injuries.

Although there were some violent incidents, balloting appeared to have been largely peaceful across the country of some 140 million people. There was a festive air in the capital Dhaka.

Both leading candidates have pledged strong action to crack down on violent extremists, as well as made populist promises to hold down prices and promote growth in a country where 45 percent of the people are below the poverty line.

An alliance led by former prime minister Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League has the edge in the vote for 300 parliament seats, most observers say.

Others predict neither she nor rival and former prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia will win an outright majority are based more on personality than rigid ideologies.

Chief Election Commissioner A.T.M. Shamsul Huda said various anti-cheating measures put in place should ensure a credible poll.

“This election removed all doubts,” Huda said. “There will be no dust flying when the results start coming.” Past elections have been marked by widespread fraud and violence, and party supporters have often taken to the streets for protests, strikes and confrontations ahead and after votes.

Amid hopes for stable government to attract investment, the broad Dhaka Stock Exchange price index rose nearly 4 percent on Sunday.

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