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Bangladesh Alliance Announces Election Boycott


A key political alliance in Bangladesh has announced a boycott of national elections scheduled to take place later this month, charging that the country's caretaker administration is not neutral. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, it has announced a fresh program of strikes across Bangladesh instead.

Just a week ago, the decision by the Awami League and its 14 allies to take part in national elections calmed political tempers across Bangladesh.

But in an abrupt turnaround, Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina has announced a boycott of the elections scheduled for January 22. She accuses the caretaker administration of bias toward her main rival, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

Hasina demands that President Iajuddin Ahmed step down as head of the interim government, calling him an obstacle to free and fair polls.

President Ahmed took charge of a caretaker administration to supervise elections when the Bangladesh Nationalist Party's term ended in October.

The Awami League says the Bangladesh Nationalist Party has appointed loyalists to key positions in the caretaker government and the election commission in order to rig the polls. It also says the voters list is stacked with millions of fake names to ensure a Bangladesh Nationalist Party victory.

The caretaker administration has taken several steps to satisfy the Awami League, agreeing to use an old voter list rather than the controversial new one and replacing some officials in the election commission.

But Awami League General Secretary Abdul Jalil says the interim government has not done enough to ensure a free and fair poll.

"No demand has been met yet," Jalil says. "The voter list is not complete yet, without voter list how can we go for election. And the question of reorganization of the election commission - that has not been settled yet.

The country's third-largest party, the Jatiya party, has also announced its decision not to participate in the polls. It is protesting the Election Commission's ruling that bars Jatiya leader Hussain Mohammad Ershad from contesting elections, due to his conviction in a corruption case. The Jatiya Party is a close ally of the Awami League.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party accuses the Awami League of attempting to sabotage the polls and says it will take part in the elections, despite the boycott by its main opponents.

In the past two months, the Awami League has organized a series of crippling strikes and blockades that have killed more than 40 people, injured hundreds and damaged businesses.

The Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party constitute the two main political alliances in the country and have a history of bitter relations.

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