Authorities ordered a security alert across Bangladesh on Saturday as a deadline set by a 14-party political alliance for the removal of the chief election commissioner over allegations of bias neared. Former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's Awami League alliance has threatened a nationwide transport blockade from Sunday if the country's interim administration did not fire the election commissioner ahead of national elections in January.
Hasina accuses the election commissioner of being partial towards its main rival, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party led by former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia, who stepped down last month to allow an interim administration to hold the elections.
Supporters of Khaleda have rejected the charges and said they would take to the streets on Sunday to oppose the Awami League's bid to disrupt transport across the country.
The face-off comes as US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher arrived as part of a trip to South Asia.
Boucher who is in Dhaka for three days is expected to hold talks with the leaders of the rival parties in a bid to defuse tensions.
"The country is up for a likely breakdown in law and order as the political rivals have drawn the battle lines," said a senior police officer on Saturday.
"This may push the country into an unprecedented political crisis," said a government official.
Schools and universities will likely remain shut on Sunday, a working day in Bangladesh, because of the rising political tensions, education officials said.
President Iajuddin Ahmed who heads the caretaker administration has so far made no public comment on the opposition demand to act against Chief Election Commissioner MA Aziz.
But Aziz told reporters last week that the president had asked him to continue work on holding of the elections.
Foreign envoys, including US Ambassador Patricia A Butenis and her European colleagues, have been shuttling between rival camps trying to defuse the political tension gripping the country ahead of elections.
Elections in Bangladesh have in the past been violent and marred by allegations of rigging and voter intimidation.
At least 30 people died in political violence since Khaleda was constitutionally obligated to resign last month.