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Bangladesh polls torched, shots fired in election boycott

| Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014, 9:39 p.m.

DHAKA, Bangladesh — Police in Bangladesh fired at protesters and opposition activists torched more than 100 polling stations on Sunday during a national election boycotted by the opposition and described as flawed by the international community. At least 18 people were killed in election-related violence.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's refusal to heed opposition demands to step down and appoint a neutral caretaker to oversee the election led to the boycott, undermining the legitimacy of the vote, which is all but certain to return Hasina to power.

Opposition activists have staged attacks, strikes and transportation blockades in unrest that has left at least 293 people dead since last year.

“We never expected such an election,” said Aminul Islam, a resident of the capital, Dhaka, who refused to vote. “For such a situation, both the government and opposition are responsible. They don't want to establish democracy.”

Voter turnout appeared low, though official numbers were not known.

In a statement, opposition spokesman Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir praised Bangladeshis for “rejecting this meaningless” election.

Vote counting began after polls closed on Sunday. Official results are expected on Monday morning.

The opposition announced a 48-hour general strike starting on Monday morning to demand that the election results be voided.

H.T. Imam, co-chairman of the ruling Awami League's election steering committee, accused the opposition of using violence to stir panic among people.

“Still, I congratulate people who ignored such threats and came to polling stations,” he said.

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