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Bangladesh Businesses Reopen as Opposition Ends Transportation Blockade

  • Anjana Pasricha

Normalcy has returned to Bangladesh, which was paralyzed in recent days by a nation-wide transportation blockade sponsored by the main opposition party. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the protest was ended after the government agreed to replace the country's chief election official, whom the opposition had accused of irregularities in upcoming national elections.

Traffic clogged the streets of Dhaka on Friday, schools and businesses opened, and operations resumed in the port city of Chittagong, after an opposition alliance ended four days of violent protests and lifted a transportation blockade.

The main opposition party, the Awami League, announced the decision on Thursday to end the blockade. That was after the country's interim administration agreed to the Awami League's demand, and named a new person to supervise parliamentary elections scheduled for January.

The opposition had charged that the chief election commissioner, M.A. Aziz, planned to rig the elections in favor of former ruling party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. It demanded that Aziz be replaced.

In order to placate the opposition, the government announced that Aziz has gone on three months' leave.

The Awami League has welcomed the move, but says it is will keep up pressure on the interim administration to replace other controversial election officials.

The general-secretary of the Awami League, Abdul Jalil, accuses these officials of stacking the voter lists with millions of fake names, and wants new lists prepared.

"On the basis of extra 14 million voters, voting will be meaningless. These are the demands yet to be fulfilled. There should be a level playing field for free and fair elections," he said.

The Awami League says its activists will rally outside the presidential palace and the election's commissioner's office next week to press these demands.

The interim government, led by President Iajuddin Ahmed, says it has made drastic changes to the police and civil administration to ensure that elections are free and fair.

At least 10 people were killed and hundreds injured in clashes between rival political groups during this week's protests, which began Monday. The country has been convulsed by similar protests since last month, when the government handed over power to a caretaker administration in preparation for the elections.

Elections in Bangladesh, which is sharply polarized between the two main political parties, have been violent in the past.

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