Bangladesh opposition to take part in elections

December 25, 2006 - 0:0
DHAKA (AFP) -- Bangladesh's opposition have agreed to take part in next month's general elections after months of protests over alleged plans to rig the polls, a government official said Sunday, but there was no confirmation from the opposition parties.

"We have been assured that they will take part in elections if we extend the time" to present candidates, interim Cabinet member Mahbub Alam told reporters.

Party lists of election candidates were supposed to have been presented by Sunday, but the election commission said it has agreed to extend the deadline up to December 26.

There was no immediate confirmation from the Awami League, the main opposition group, or other parties who have been complaining that the election would be rigged in favor of the outgoing Bangladesh National Party (BNP).

"We hope they will start filing nominations from tomorrow and the elections will be held in time," Alam said.

If confirmed, the opposition move would bring to an end a long-running crisis. Pre-poll political violence has already claimed at least 35 lives, injured thousands and forced the interim government to call out the army to keep order.

Repeated strikes, blockades and protests have disrupted business life, costing the impoverished country millions each day.

Since the expiry of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-government on October 28, the country is being ruled an interim government led by President Iajuddin Ahmed.

But the Awami League has been pushing for a raft of reforms, alleging the BNP had placed its loyalists in key positions in the election commission.

Earlier this week the government made two key concessions, including sending a controversial election chief on extended leave and abandoning a voter list alleged to contain millions of fake names.

The Awami League initially said the reforms did not go far enough.