Political activists in Bangladesh defied a fresh police ban on rallies and marches on Tuesday, enforcing a nationwide transport blockade for a third day and threatening to block access to the presidential palace.
Some 130 people have been injured since Sunday in clashes between police and supporters of a multiparty alliance which is boycotting elections due on January 22 in protest at what it says is the interim government's failure to ensure a free and fair vote.
Reiterating an earlier ban, police said anyone causing disruption would be "dealt with severely" but they were braced for more violence as the alliance, led by former prime minister Sheikh Hasina, said it would block roads leading to the palace of President Iajuddin Ahmed, who heads the caretaker administration.
Abdul Jalil, general secretary of Hasina's Awami League, said they would defy all bans to implement their protest plans. He called on alliance leaders and workers to resist the elections and urged voters to boycott polling centres.
But Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan, secretary-general of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), led by immediate past prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia and Hasina's rival, urged BNP workers to foil any attempt to disrupt the vote.
"Anyone has the right to boycott an election but no one has a right to resist the polls," he said.
Political analysts and diplomats have said an election without the participation of all major parties would not be credible or acceptable to the international community.
No violence was reported in the early hours of Tuesday but, as on previous days, Bangladesh was paralysed by the blockade, with buses and lorries idle and only a few taxis and rickshaws seen moving in Dhaka.
Alliance activists gathered at different points of the capital to ensure no transport could enter or leave the city. Police kept a tight watch and army troops patrolled the streets.
Hasina's alliance, which ordered the blockade, has alleged that Iajuddin favours Khaleda and that his interim government has failed to create a congenial atmosphere for a free and fair election. It wants Iajuddin to resign but he has refused.
At least 45 people have been killed and hundreds injured in clashes between political rivals since Khaleda ended her five-year tenure as prime minister in late October and handed power to the interim authority.
Hasina and her allies want election officials "biased towards Khaleda" to be removed, a new election schedule and an overhaul of the list of registered voters.
The Jan. 22 poll has also been boycotted by the Jatiya Party of former army ruler Hossain Mohammad Ershad and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) led by former president AQM Badruddoza Chowdhury.
US Ambassador Patricia A Butenis told reporters after meeting Ershad on Monday that a one-sided election, without the participation of all major parties, would be unacceptable to the international community.
"The (political) situation in Bangladesh is frustrating," Butenis said.