Bangladesh's main party leaders were set to meet the president on Saturday in a bid to defuse a looming confrontation over demands for electoral reform that threatens to plunge the country into renewed turmoil.
The main Awami League opposition has said it will resume a nationwide transport blockade from Sunday unless the country's interim government headed by President Iajuddin Ahmed meets a string of demands by Saturday evening.
They include the president's resignation as head of the caretaker government, revision of a voter list it says includes 14 million fake electors and the "reconstitution" of the country's election commission.
The leaders of the Awami League Sheikh Hasina Wajed and the outgoing Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) Khaleda Zia were slated to meet the president for separate talks later Saturday in a last-minute attempt to avert another blockade, officials said.
The meeting follows comments by a UN special envoy to Bangladesh on Friday, who said he was concerned at the continuing impasse between the two parties.
"The situation is indeed worrying," Craig Jenness told reporters at the end of a three-day visit.
"I believe that these differences can be only resolved through dialogue as the Secretary General (Kofi Annan) has urged."
Jenness met Ahmed, leaders of the main political parties and senior officials during his visit.
"During my discussions... I found there is a deep sense of worry that current political disagreements are harming the economy, increasing tensions and threatening the chances of a credible election," he said.
He urged the main parties "to come together in a spirit of compromise and dialogue", adding that the differences between them were not so substantial that an agreement could not be reached.
Jenness also condemned political violence, which has left at least 30 people dead since the end of the BNP-led government's five-year mandate on October 27.
"The Secretary General ... wished me to express his concern regarding the recent acts of political violence that have resulted in the tragic loss of many innocent lives. Violence has no place in the democratic process," he said.
An opposition alliance of 14 parties led by the Awami League has called repeated strikes and blockades since the start of the year despite the pleas of business leaders who say the protests cost them millions of dollars each day.
The protests have repeatedly paralysed the entire country for days on end. A series of opposition actions this week brought large swathes of the capital Dhaka to a standstill.
Earlier protests led to the BNP's proposed candidate for the post of head of the caretaker government declining the job.
The chief election commissioner also agreed to take three months' leave so the elections set for January 21 could be held without him at the helm.
The opposition accuses the BNP of trying to engineer another win at the ballot box by appointing party supporters to key positions in the temporary administration and election commission.
The supposedly neutral bodies are responsible for holding fair elections.