Dozens of polling booths were torched and a train set alight on the eve of Bangladesh’s election on Saturday as the opposition launched a 48-hour strike against the vote “farce”.
The Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which is boycotting the vote, called the two-day general strike — but it has little chance of thwarting Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s re-election in what is effectively a one-party contest.
The strike comes after BNP leader Khaleda Zia issued an appeal to voters to also “completely boycott” what she called “a scandalous farce”, and accused the government of placing her under house arrest.
The build-up to Sunday’s vote has been dominated by political violence, with around 150 people killed since the date was set in October. Observers fear the contest will heighten tensions after Bangladesh endured its bloodiest 12 months since a brutal 1971 independence war against Pakistan. The main headline in Saturday’s Dhaka Tribune read: “Tension, fear mark build-up to the polls”, while all newspapers carried pictures of the latest victims of the violence, many of them with horrific burns.
One opposition activist was killed on Saturday in the northern town of Patgram during clashes with governing Awami League supporters, police said.
Officials also said protesters had set fire to or attempted to torch 34 polling booths, but said the attacks would not derail the election.
Although the government denies that Zia has been detained, dozens of riot police could be seen outside her home in Dhaka on Saturday, along with water-cannon and sand trucks, preventing anyone from entering.