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B'desh parties to press for election reforms ahead of polls

An alliance of 14 Bangladeshi political parties said it would hold protests to press for election reforms ahead of next month's polls.

india Updated: Dec 12, 2006 13:42 IST

An alliance of 14 Bangladeshi political parties said it would hold protests on Tuesday to press for election reforms ahead of next month's polls, despite the deployment of thousands of troops to quash demonstrations.

Some 17,000 soldiers patrolled Bangladesh's towns and cities for a second day Monday and further troops could be sent to the countryside if the need arises, military spokesman Lt. Col. Anisur Rahman said.

Political tensions deepened Monday as four senior advisers, hand-picked by the country's interim leader, resigned in a vote of no confidence in his ability to lead the country to free and fair elections on Jan. 23.

The four are among 10 advisers chosen by President Iajuddin Ahmed on Oct. 31 after installing himself as the country's interim leader. "We sent our resignation letters to the president this morning," said Sultana Kamal, the adviser for women's affairs. Akbar Ali Khan, Hasan Mashud Chowdhury and C.M. Shafi Sami also resigned, she said.

"Our recommendations were not implemented," Sami, a former foreign secretary, was quoted as saying by the United News of Bangladesh news agency. "I have resigned since I could not make any contribution to create an appropriate atmosphere for free and fair elections."

Kamal told the news agency they faced "obstacles and noncooperation at every step."

Neither commented on local media reports that the resignations were a protest against Ahmed's decision to call the military out of their barracks.

Government officials said the resignations would not be allowed to jeopardize the elections.

"The resignations will not create a crisis," said Fazlul Haque, one of the six advisers who remained, adding that the president can replace the four who resigned, allowing the polls to go ahead. Despite the military deployment, the 14-party alliance planned demonstrations across Bangladesh on Tuesday, alliance spokesman Abdul Jalil said.

"We plan to hold peaceful protests across the country to press for reforms that will make the upcoming polls free and fair," he said. "Our protests are not against the military but against the partisan election officials who must go."

The alliance wants the removal of two election commissioners whom it accuses of favoring former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia. Under Bangladesh's Constitution, election officials cannot be sacked, but must resign or go on leave.

Bangladesh, an impoverished nation of 140 million people, has been repeatedly paralyzed over the past two months by protests demanding electoral reform that have left more than 30 dead and scores injured.

Calling in the army to help maintain law and order was viewed as a risky step in the South Asian nation, which has been plagued by military coups since gaining independence from Pakistan in 1971. Two of its presidents were slain in coups, and there have been 19 other failed coup attempts.

Past governments also have used the army for security during national elections, or in anti-crime drives and relief operations following cyclones or floods.

Zia stepped down at the end of her term in October so an interim government could take over to oversee the elections, as Bangladesh's Constitution stipulates.

First Published: Dec 12, 2006 13:42 IST