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Bangladesh comes to a standstill ahead of opposition march

Saturday, 28 December 2013 - 6:02pm IST | Agency: PTI

People across Bangladesh today braced for fresh political violence with the main opposition BNP determined to defy a government ban on its protest march tomorrow to press for the postponement of upcoming polls.

The country was under virtual siege as transport services shut down overnight following a government advisory and paramilitary troops patrolled city streets amidst a face-off between the Awami League and the BNP-led 18-party opposition alliance. Hundreds of Bangladeshis returning from India were stranded at the western land port of Benapole, with no buses to carry them home.

All Dhaka-bound trains from northern districts were halted at Tangail in central Bangladesh. "Fear of sabotage after the recent distasteful experience forced us to take some precautions causing schedule disruptions...Train services between Dhaka and Chittagong, however, are running," a railway spokesman told PTI.

At least three persons were killed when their train was derailed at Gaibandha in northern Bangladesh by opposition activists on December 4.

Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chief Khaleda Zia exhorted her supporters to rally in the capital Dhaka tomorrow and to defy the ban on her "march for democracy". "I urge all able bodied countrymen cutting across their affiliation, religion and class to join the rally on December 29. This (January 5 polls) is a farce, not an election, rather a shameless selection," she said earlier, warning of "tougher actions" if the government obstructs the marchers.

Media reports said activists of BNP and Jamaat began moving towards Dhaka yesterday evening, well ahead of the march in order to avoid interception by police. The reports said many planned to reach Dhaka by tomorrow under cover of wedding parties as many marriages are set to take place in the capital on the weekend.

The BNP is boycotting the polls and political violence during nationwide strikes and blockades enforced by the opposition have left nearly 130 people dead and crippled the economy since November.

The BNP has refused to field candidates, saying polls under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will be rigged - an accusation the premier strongly rejects.

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