Bangladesh deploys army ahead of elections

December 11, 2006 - 0:0
DHAKA (AFP) -- Bangladesh has deployed its armed forces across the country in an effort to maintain order ahead of January elections, after weeks of conflict between government and opposition supporters.

"The armed forces have already been deployed in the country's capital, all 64 districts and towns and in the ports," armed forces spokesman Colonel Anis, who uses one name, told AFP.

"The forces have been deployed to maintain law and order. We have completed full deployment this morning and they are now keeping order," he added.

The government late Saturday ordered the move "in aid of the civil administration to maintain law and order ahead of the general elections," the country's home ministry said in a statement.

"The president ordered deployment of the armed forces to protect life and property of the people, keep alive economic activities, seize illegal weapons and control terrorists," it added.

The armed forces were previously deployed just weeks ahead of the last election in 2001 to recover arms across the country.

This time the armed forces have been called in nearly one and a half months ahead of the elections, due on January 23.

The sudden decision follows Bangladesh opposition parties' latest threat to launch non-stop protests to force the country's interim government keep its promises on electoral reform.

The opposition, led by the Awami League, gave a cautious welcome to the deployment.

"We'll welcome and congratulate the armed force if they take proper action against the corrupt persons and terrorists," opposition spokesman Abdul Jalil said.

"We hope the people's army will serve the cause of the people by standing beside them," he said.

The opposition had threatened to besiege the presidential palace with two million supporters on Sunday if reforms pledged by the country's interim government were not implemented within 24 hours.

But late Saturday, Jalil told reporters they had extended the deadline until Sunday evening after the interim Cabinet held meetings throughout the day to prevent a new series of protests.

The interim government, led by President Iajuddin Ahmed, huddled in the presidential palace Saturday to discuss the latest opposition threats.

C.M. Shafi Sami, a member of the interim Cabinet, told reporters after the talks that they expected to fulfill the opposition's demands by Sunday.

Jalil said the caretaker government had fulfilled part of the promised deal, but they wanted total fulfillment of the package.

He said outstanding demands included the resignation of election commissioner S.M. Zakaria.

Opposition parties accuse Zakaria of being biased in favor of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which led a four-party coalition government whose mandate ran out in late October.

The opposition has accused the outgoing government of seeking to rig the parliamentary elections in its favor by appointing biased officials.

In a separate order, the Dhaka police also banned protests and rallies outside the presidential palace to ensure security and prevent violence.