Thousands of protesters rallied in the Bangladeshi capital on Thursday to demand the resignation of election officials ahead of January polls, as an interim government renewed efforts to end the political impasse.
The protesters are from an alliance of 14 political parties that has accused the country's five election officials of bias in favour of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, an arch-rival of alliance leader Sheikh Hasina.
Hasina, who is also a former prime minister, has rejected the Jan. 21 date for the elections, demanding that voter rolls she alleges are flawed be corrected before polls are held.
The demonstrators planned to stage a sit-in outside the official house of President Iajuddin Ahmed.
But barbed-wire barricades manned by security forces kept them blocks away.
Ahmed is heading the interim government after Zia constitutionally transferred power after completing her five-year in office on October 29.
Streets around the president's office were closed to traffic. The closures caused huge traffic snarls in other parts of the city of 10 million people.
Late on Wednesday, Ahmed sent his adviser Mukhlesur Rahman Chowdhury to the feuding leaders, Hasina and Zia, offering to hold talks with them to resolve the crisis.
"I've conveyed to the leaders the president's message whether they will be willing sit with him (the president) to discuss the political situation and election schedule," Chowdhury told reporters.
There was no immediate response available from the two leaders. The continuing political standoff has provoked international concern.
A visiting envoy of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan met with President Ahmed, politicians and election officials to underscore support for free and fair elections in the Muslim nation that has been wracked by years of political turmoil.
Craig Jenness, Director of the UN Electoral Assistance Division, called on Ahmed after arriving on Wednesday.
"The United Nations is concerned at the violence on streets," Jenness was quoted as saying by a Presidential spokesman. Jenness, who met with Hasina on Wednesday, urged dialogue between the political parties to resolve the standoff. Jenness was scheduled to meet Zia on Thursday.
On Wednesday, Bangladeshi Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus urged the feuding political parties to sign a peace deal to end a standoff that has paralyzed the country's transport and economy in recent weeks.
"Even wars end in peace deals. So, why can't we have a peace deal to end political differences?" Yunus said at a grand reception, hosted by the city of Dhaka, the national capital, to honour his peace prize.
Hasina's alliance has threatened another nationwide transport shutdown if her demands are not met by a Saturday deadline.