The Bangladesh government has sent the army into the streets to restore order ahead of national elections scheduled for next month. Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the decision came as one of the major parties threatened to step up protests in support of its demands for changes in election procedures.
Soldiers began taking up positions in key locations all across the country on Sunday after the government decided that the show of force was needed to maintain law and order. Officials said the troops would assist the civil administration until the elections, due to be held January 23rd, are over and a new government takes office.
The decision was announced Saturday evening after an alliance led by the Awami League party threatened to intensify its weeks-long protest, and lay siege to the presidential palace in Dhaka.
Army vans were reported in Dhaka and other cities on Sunday, and troops in battle gear were seen patrolling the streets. Gatherings and processions around the presidential palace have been banned.
Demonstrations and transportation blockades have convulsed the nation in recent weeks, and led to the deaths of more than 40 people.
The Awami League has been pressing for key changes to the election procedures. The government has conceded some of those demands - for example a redrawing of the voting list, which the Awami League alliance said contained millions of fake and duplicate names.
But the alliance insists that not enough has been done to ensure a fair poll. It also wants the government to remove two top election officials, who it says are biased in favor of the Awami League's rival, the Bangladesh Nationalist party.
The BNP ruled the country until October, when it handed power to a caretaker administration, which is charged under Bangladeshi law with preparing for and supervising elections.
Abdul Jalil, general secretary of the Awami League, charges that the caretaker administration is not taking adequate steps to ensure that the elections are neutral.
"We have been trying to cooperate with the government, but if the government does not take our cooperation what can we do? We are ready for elections. But the election schedule has to be settled," Abdul Jalil says. "All these decisions have to be taken, and it has to be implemented by the government."
The administration says it is making efforts to resolve the political standoff, and has held several rounds of negotiations with the rival parties.
The task is not easy. The Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party are bitter rivals, who have governed the country in turns over the last 15 years.
The BNP has criticized the protest campaign, accusing the Awami League of attempting to impose its own conditions in order to influence the elections. The BNP says the caretaker administration must not bow to the agenda of one party.