Bangladesh uses military to keep order before polls


Mon, Dec 11, 2006 - Page 5

Bangladesh's army took up positions in key areas across the country yesterday after being called on by the embattled interim government to restore order ahead of next month's national elections.

"The armed forces have already been deployed in the country's capital, all 64 districts and towns and in the ports," armed forces spokesman Colonel Anis, who only uses one name, told reporters.

"The forces have been deployed to maintain law and order. We have completed full deployment this morning and they are now keeping order," he added.

In the capital Dhaka, combat troops in army fatigues were seen guarding key roads and the presidential palace.

They also raided houses of listed criminals and searched long-haul buses on the main highway near Savar town, some 40km west of Dhaka, Savar police chief Mahbbur Rahman said.

The army said it has also deployed soldiers at the country's main port of Chittagong, where operations have for weeks been paralyzed by an opposition blockade.

Led by the Awami League, the opposition have alleged the Jan. 23 polls will be rigged in favor of the outgoing Bangladesh National Party (BNP). At least 34 people have also died in pre-election violence in the politically polarized south Asian nation.

The interim government ordered the troop deployment late on Saturday "in aid of the civil administration to maintain law and order ahead of the general elections."

"The president ordered deployment of the armed forces to protect life and property of the people, keep alive economic activities, seize illegal weapons and control terrorists," it added.

The decision came after opposition threats to launch non-stop protests to force the country's interim government to keep its promises on electoral reform.

But the opposition said the army should instead be taking "proper action against the corrupt persons and terrorists."

Opposition spokesman Abdul Jalil vowed to "monitor the activities of the armed forces."

He also said protests would go ahead as planned if reforms pledged by the country's interim government were not implemented by yesterday evening.

"We are waiting for a positive outcome by tonight. If the government fails to implement its promises, we will have no alternative but to resume protests," he told reporters.

The opposition had threatened to besiege the presidential palace with 2 million supporters yesterday. But the Dhaka police has also banned protests and rallies, including outside the presidential palace.

The opposition extended the deadline until yesterday evening after the interim Cabinet, led by President Iajuddin Ahmed, held meetings throughout the day to resolve key issues.

C.M. Shafi Sami, a member of the interim Cabinet, told reporters after the talks that they expected to fulfill the opposition's demands by yesterday.

Jalil said the caretaker government had fulfilled part of the promised deal, but they wanted total fulfillment of the package.

He said outstanding demands included the resignation of election commissioner S.M. Zakaria.

Opposition parties accuse Zakaria of being biased in favor of the BNP, which led a four-party coalition government whose mandate ran out in late October.

The opposition has accused the outgoing government of seeking to rig the parliamentary elections in its favor by appointing biased officials.