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1,151 BGB platoons on patrol across Bangladesh ahead of January 7 polls

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Dhaka, Dec 29 (PTI) Bangladesh on Friday deployed a total of 1,151 platoons of paramilitary border guards across the country to ensure that the January 7 general election can be held in a free, fair and peaceful manner amid a boycott by the main Opposition BNP and its allies.

The Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) personnel will work in tandem with the police, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), and armed forces for 13 days surrounding the January 7 polls, starting on Friday. Typically, each platoon consists of around 30 BGB troopers.

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From December 29 to January 10, the BGB will operate as a mobile and striking force to ensure security in constituencies across the country, including Dhaka, the paramilitary force said.

Army personnel will be deployed across the country from January 3 to January 10 to help maintain law and order before, during, and after the upcoming national polls.

Ailing former premier Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) is carrying out an anti-election street campaign, calling for intermittent strikes and transport blockades, saying no election under the incumbent government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina would be fair or neutral.

The BNP has also called for civil disobedience against the Awami Party-led dispensation, urging people not to pay taxes and utility bills to press its demand for a non-party interim government for election oversight by amending the country’s Constitution.

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The BNP is boycotting the election after its demand for an interim non-party neutral government to organise the voting was rejected by the government. The party had boycotted the 2014 election but took part in 2018 polls, which party leaders later said was a mistake alleging that the voting was marred with widespread rigging and intimidation.

Since October 29, the BNP has been holding intermittent nationwide strikes and transport blockades.

According to a media tally, 11 people died, 386 vehicles were torched, and four trains were derailed from tracks in the past two months in political violence. Police arrested thousands of opposition activists and figures, including de-facto BNP leader and party secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, over charges of violence.

Hasina, 76, also the President of the Awami Party, alleged that BNP is hatching conspiracies from abroad, in an apparent reference to the party’s acting chairman and Zia’s son Tarique Rahman who has taken refuge in the UK to evade jail terms.

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Several Bangladeshi courts declared Rahman a “fugitive” as he took refuge in the UK to evade jail terms for several criminal charges, including a grenade attack on a rally of the then-opposition Awami League in 2004 in which 24 people were killed.

Hasina narrowly escaped the attack, which also wounded some 500 of her party leaders, activists and supporters.

Zia,78, was also convicted and jailed on two graft charges with a 17-year jail term. However, she is now in a hospital with multiple health issues.

The US and other major Western countries called for dialogue between the ruling Awami League and particularly with the BNP to ensure an inclusive and credible election, which, however, saw no headway due to reluctance from both sides.

With the BNP boycotting the election, and no other credible opposition party against it, Hasina’s Awami League is likely to gain an upper hand and likely to form the government for the fourth consecutive term.

BNP’s boycott of polls had initially posed a challenge for the Awami League to legitimise the January 7 polls as the Jatiya Party (JAPA), which is officially the main opposition in the current Parliament, was also reluctant to take part in the upcoming elections.

However, earlier this month, Awami League decided to spare 26 out of the 300 parliamentary seats to JAPA in an apparent effort to persuade the party to take part in the January 7 elections in BNP’s absence, while its nominees withdrew their candidature from these seats.

Political analysts opined that the JAPA’s previous stance of unwillingness to contest the polls was a bargaining technique.

Awami League also left six seats to its partners in the 14-party ruling alliance — three seats to left-leaning Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JASOD), two to the Workers Party and one to another Jatiya Party faction called JP. PTI NSA AKJ

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