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Riot Police, Protesters Clash in Bangladesh Ahead of Elections     


At least 50 people were injured when security forces clashed with protestors in Bangladesh's capital Sunday at the start of a three-day transport blockade. The blockade - staged by the Awami League opposition alliance -aims to force the government to delay the January 22 elections and to implement electoral reform. Anjana Pasricha has more on the story for VOA News from New Delhi.

At least 12,000 security forces and riot police were deployed Sunday across Dhaka to stop the latest protest called by the Awami League and its opposition allies.

But thousands of stone-throwing political activists defied the caretaker government's ban on demonstrations and packed key intersections in the city, halted all transport, and shut down businesses.

Dozens of people were injured as riot police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the protestors, who vowed to cut off Dhaka from the rest of the country.

The main port city of Chittagong was already feeling the impact with deliveries interrupted.

The protest was organized this week after the Awami League announced it would boycott January 22 parliamentary elections. The Awami League-led 14 party alliance accuses the interim government organizing the elections of favoring its main rival, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

The Awami League wants the ballot postponed until key electoral reforms, which include a revised voter list, are complete. It also wants the president to step down as the country's interim leader.

Abdul Jalil, general secretary of the Awami League, told VOA the opposition plans to intensify protests in the coming days.

He says his party must act to stop the government from organizing a rigged election without the participation of the people.

In a statement late Saturday, President Iajuddin Ahmed vowed to go ahead with the elections, saying he was constitutionally bound to install a new government by January 25th and he urged all Bangladesh citizens to support the legal process.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which led the previous government, has accused the Awami League of sabotaging the political process. The two parties are bitter rivals and have alternated in power in the country for the last 15 years.

Political analysts say the Awami League's decision to pull out of the elections means that the country could be headed for months of political turbulence. More than 35 people have been killed and hundreds injured in protests organized by the Awami League since October.