Bangladesh will deploy thousands of soldiers and paramilitary personnel for 15 days from next week to contain deadly political violence ahead of the controversial January 5 general elections.
Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad on Friday said army personnel will set up camps in every district during December 26-January 9 to ensure "peaceful, free and fair" polls.
The exact number of troops from the army, Border Guard Bangladesh, Coast Guard, Rapid Action Battalion and Armed Police Battalion to be deployed will be determined by the home ministry, he said.
Local media reports suggested around 50,000 troops may be mobilised across the country.
"The army has been assisting us since the 1973 national elections," Ahmed said.
The move comes amid mounting tensions after the BNP-led opposition alliance and a key ally of premier Sheikh Hasina's party boycotted the parliamentary polls. The government, however, insists the vote will go ahead as planned.
The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), led by former premier Khaleda Zia, and its allies have been staging protests since late October to force Hasina to step down so that a non-party caretaker government can oversee the election.
Political violence has left more than 100 people dead since November. A series of strikes and nationwide transport blockades has crippled the economy, affecting millions.
Ahmad, however, said law and order across the country is improving and police are working to ensure that voters can participate in the elections without any problems.
Hasina has refused to accept the opposition's demands and ruled out any possibility of rescheduling the elections, saying the BNP has "missed the election train".
However, she has said she would consider dissolving the parliament formed after the polls and holding another election if the BNP shuns violence and severs ties with the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami.
"We will hold elections again by dissolving the (next) parliament if a consensus could be reached... But Khaleda Zia must stop enforcing general strikes, blockades and killing people," she said.
"There is a limit to patience towards chaos. But if you (BNP and Jamaat) continue to create chaos, we will not tolerate it," Hasina said.
The BNP has refused to field candidates for the January 5 election, saying the vote under Hasina will be rigged - an accusation the premier strongly rejects.
Hasina did not specify how long the next parliament would run. Over half of her party's candidates are already set to be declared elected unopposed in the 300-seat parliament in the absence of rivals.
Jamaat, the largest Islamist party which has been barred from contesting the polls, is furious with the government after one of its leaders was executed last week for genocide during the 1971 independence war.
The opposition, which launched a 72-hour nationwide blockade on Tuesday, has announced its fourth back-to-back four-day blockade starting tomorrow in a bid to topple Hasina and derail the January 5 vote.
The European Union today declared that it will not send observers to monitor the January 5 polls, saying Bangladesh's political forces have failed to create conditions for credible elections.
The Chief Election Commissioner expressed hope that foreign observer groups will come to the country if law and order improves.