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Bangladesh's armed police, ruling party supporters guard streets to foil opposition march

DHAKA, Dec. 29 — Thousands of anti-riot police and ruling party supporters were on the streets of Bangladesh's capital Dhaka to foil the opposition march after rally in the city.

Former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia on Tuesday night through a press conference urged people from all walks of life to join the march toward capital Dhaka on Dec. 29 to put pressure on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government to scrap the parliamentary elections.

Amid fear of violence, traffic on Dhaka streets remained relatively thin as most private vehicles were kept indoors Sunday. Dhaka streets were almost deserted in the early hours of Sunday.

No major incident of violence has so far been reported.

Dhaka remained virtually cut off from the rest of Bangladesh since Saturday morning.

Transporters said they were asked by the ruling party to halt operations for two days to thwart the long march.

Law enforcement agencies and ruling party supporters have launched a special drive to detain suspected troublemakers, mostly from the opposition camp.

Police and para-military personnel were seen all over the Dhaka city. They were patrolling or raiding sensitive places in desperate move to look for trouble makers.

Police have reportedly detained hundreds of activists of Khaleda's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its key ally Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami party from Dhaka and elsewhere in the country.

Khaleda, who also virtually remained confined to her residence since the announcement of the march program, through a video message on Friday evening urged countrymen to defy all hurdles to march towards Dhaka and attend a rally in front of the party headquarters.

Dhaka Metropolitan Police has not given permission to BNP for staging the march after rally Sunday.

Police put up barricades on both sides of the road leading to Khaleda's house since Saturday evening. On Sunday morning security was further beefed up in and around her house in Dhaka's diplomatic enclave Gulshan.

All forms of transport bound for the capital stopped plying since Saturday morning in an apparent move to keep opposition activists from carrying out their march.

Hasina's Awami League (AL) party has already vowed to resist the program and asked its activists to guard all entry points to Dhaka.

"Guard all the eight entry points of Dhaka so that even a fly cannot enter Dhaka city," Awami League leader Mofazzal Hossain Maya said Saturday.

Law enforcers including paramilitary Border Guard Bangladesh ( BGB) and ruling party supporters have been searching Dhaka bound people in all the eight major entry points of Dhaka.

Khaleda's BNP and its 17 allies have asked Hasina to bring back a non-party caretaker system, or else the opposition won't participate in the next election because it fears an election without the non-party caretaker government will not be free and fair.

Some 21 opposition parties including BNP are boycotting the elections over Hasina's refusal for non-party interim government to oversee the elections.

Hasina's AL party ruled out Khaleda's calls for canceling the Jan. 5 polls.

Khaleda's 18-party opposition alliance has enforced prolonged blockades after the Election Commission on Nov. 25 announced the schedule for the 10th parliamentary polls. Scores of people from both ruling and opposition parties were dead and hundreds others injured in widespread violence since Nov. 26.

Against this backdrop, around 50,000 troops have begun to deploy across the country ahead of the parliamentary polls. The Bangladesh Election Commission on Dec. 20 announced the deployment of troops for 15 days from Dec. 26 as part of beefed up security measures to hold the parliamentary polls peacefully.

The European Union, the Commonwealth and the United States have already announced that they would not send poll observers to the country.

Bangladesh plunged into a major political crisis in late 2006 and it returned to democracy after two years of army- backed rule following a widely acceptable parliament elections in 2008 under caretaker government.

Since 1996, the caretaker government has held elections in 1996, 2001 and 2008, which were recognized as free and fair by local and international observers. (PNA/Xinhua)


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