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Bangladesh Election Campaign Increasingly Violent - 2001-09-07

In Bangladesh, nearly 2,000 candidates will run in general elections scheduled to be held on October 1. More than 50 people have died in election-related violence in the run-up to the polls.

Officials say about half the candidates contesting the elections are supporters of the country's two main political parties, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Awami League. The rest are running as independent candidates for the 300 parliamentary seats.

The leaders of the two rival parties, Sheikh Hasina of the Awami league and Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, are contesting from five constituencies each.

More than 500 candidates have withdrawn from the contest as the election campaign which has become increasingly violent.

There have been scores of killings since Sheikh Hasina's government was dissolved on July 15 to make way for elections under a neutral, caretaker administration.

Officials say more than 50 people have died in recent weeks. But a Dhaka-based non-governmental organization, Democracywatch, estimates that 95 people have been killed and more than 5,000 others injured since mid July.

Most of the victims were killed in clashes between rival party activists.

In the latest violence, three politicians were shot dead Thursday and more than 50 people injured in separate incidents as supporters of the two leading parties fought each other with guns and knives in at least three districts across the country.

The violence has continued despite the arrest of more than 60,000 people last month as part of a drive to improve law and order. A large number of illegal arms were recovered in the crackdown. Authorities said most of those arrested were involved in extortion or political violence.

The caretaker prime minister, Latifur Rahman, says more than 100,000 troops and police will be deployed nine days ahead of the vote. He says security will improve, and promises to provide what he calls the right type of direction for a free and fair election.

The October 1 election will be Bangladesh's third since the restoration of democracy a decade ago. The last government, led by Sheikh Hasina, was the first to complete its full five-year term in office.