Tension mounts before key vote

Tension heightened ahead of Monday's crucial vote, after rival supporters hit the motorcade carrying an ally of leading candidate Sheikh Hasina. At least 20 people were injured, according to the police.


REUTERS - A crowd of rival supporters threw bricks at the motorcade of a former Bangladesh leader on Saturday on the final day of campaigning for a parliamentary election aimed at returning the South Asian nation to democracy.

The attack could reinforce concern Bangladesh has not escaped its history of election-related violence as it prepares for Monday's vote ending two years of a military-backed government that suspended many political rights.

About 50 people armed with bricks and sticks attacked the motorcade carrying former military ruler Hossain Mohammad Ershad, Jatiya Party leader and an ally of leading candidate Sheikh Hasina, police said.

Around 20 people were hurt but Ershad was unharmed, a police officer said.

The motorcade was on the way to a rally at his Rangpur home district 330 km (210 miles) northwest of Dhaka.

Earlier police said they had found some 40 bombs around the country and detained more than a dozen Islamist militant suspects linked to possible violence plots.

Local media also reported nearly 100 people hurt in clashes between supporters of rival candidates in the north.

Bangladeshis hope Monday's parliamentary election brings a stable government that could attract much-needed investment and aid to the impoverished country of more than 140 million people.

Those hopes could be scuppered if violence flares.

Although the run-up to the election had been relatively peaceful until Saturday's attack, past Bangladesh polls have seen losing candidates and their supporters take to the streets.

Political violence in January 2007 was used by the interim government as a reason to take power and cancel a scheduled  election.

Conspiracy charge

One leading candidate, former prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia, says the interim government is conspiring to help her rival Hasina, another ex-PM, win.

For her part Hasina, seen by some analysts as the likely winner, accuses Khaleda of corruption and vote tampering.

Hasina's Awami League and Khaleda's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) alternated in power for 15 years till 2006.

"During BNP rule we fought against terrorism and corruption, something (the Awami League) started and lived with," Khaleda told tens of thousands at a rally in Dhaka on Saturday.

Hasina told a similar rally in Dhaka the previous day: "The BNP, Khaleda Zia and her sons had pushed the country into serious political turmoil and ruined the economy."

With electioneering officially due to stop at midnight Saturday, the two ended their campaigns with pre-recorded television speeches on Saturday night.

In what could be recognition of unhappiness with her previous performance, Hasina said "we also want to learn from our own mistakes."

And Khaleda, who drew fire as PM for initial hesitation to pursue violent militants, said she would seek foreign cooperation to curb terrorism and violence.

The election is a crucial test for the country, where some 45 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Military rule, political violence and strikes have often disrupted democracy and elections have been rife with fraud.

This time the interim government and Election Commission have introduced electoral reforms. International monitors say so far the election process looks credible.

However, the candidates' charges against one another may have set the stage for the losers or their supporters to claim they were cheated, possibly leading to protests and violence.

Even without such incidents, the winner will face major challenges in reducing endemic corruption and trying to improve Bangladesh's economy in the face of the global slowdown.

Based on previous polls, some voters are pessimistic.

"They promised us cheap food, year-round work and other benefits. But we hardly saw them after the elections. I suspect the same will happen this time," said housewife Safura Khatoon, 55, in Narsingdi 80 km (50 miles) east of Dhaka.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning

Take international news everywhere with you! Download the France 24 app