DHAKA: Thousands of protesters firebombed polling stations and at least 18 people were killed as violence flared across Bangladesh on Sunday during a walkover election boycotted by the opposition.
Police said they had opened fire at protesters as they torched more than 200 polling stations and stole and burnt ballot papers to try to sabotage the poll.
Two of those killed were beaten to death while guarding polling stations in northern districts but most of the victims were opposition supporters. “We’ve seen thousands of protesters attack polling booths and our personnel at a number of locations with petrol bombs,” Syed Abu Sayem, police chief of the northern district of Bogra, told AFP.
“The situation is extremely volatile,” he added after describing how thousands of ballot papers had been ceremoniously set on fire.
Most of the other victims were opposition activists shot by police, while a driver died of his injuries from a petrol bomb attack on his truck. Police put the overall toll at 18 although the opposition said 22 of its supporters were killed.
“We were forced to open fire after thousands of them attacked us with guns and small bombs,” said Mokbul Hossain, police chief in the northern town of Parbatipur.
In the capital Dhaka, whose streets were largely deserted apart from thousands of troops, police confirmed three petrol bombings of polling stations. Tens of thousands of troops were deployed across the country after around 150 people had been killed in the build-up to the election. The ruling Awami League has accused the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of orchestrating the violence and has kept its leader under de facto house arrest.
The opposition had demanded that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina make way for a neutral caretaker government before the election to ensure no ballot-rigging, a system in force in the past.
Although there was no immediate figure on turnout, officials acknowledged that it was poor.
Final results are expected in the early hours today (Monday).
But the outcome is not in doubt since voting took place in only 147 of the 300 parliamentary constituencies. Awami League candidates or allies had a clear run in the remaining 153.
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