Bangladesh gripped by political violence over disputed election

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At least one person has died after security forces and opposition supporters clashed in Bangladesh’s capital, as thousands of police took to the streets to foil a mass rally calling on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to cancel upcoming elections.

Sheikh Hasina’s rival, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, is expected to address the rally in Dhaka later on Sunday in defiance of a government ban on large political gatherings. Authorities have detained hundreds of people in a crackdown ahead of next weekend’s elections.

Ms Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party is accused of protecting people being tried or convicted of war crimes involving the nation’s 1971 independence war against Pakistan.

Jamaat-e-Islami, the main partner of Ms Zia’s party, wants the government to halt the war crimes trials of its leaders.

Security officials surrounded Ms Zia’s home in Dhaka, in a district where most foreign embassies are located, and parked sand-laden trucks in an apparent effort to stop Ms Zia from leaving her home. Police denied that the measures were taken to stop her from joining the rally.

However, when Ms Zia attempted to come out police created a barricade that prevented her from getting to her car. TV video showed her condemning the government, saying, “Stop this.”

Meanwhile, thousands of security forces, mainly police, tried to prevent her supporters from holding a rally.

A 21-year-old student was killed in Dhaka when security officials fired rubber bullets to disperse the crowds, said police official Mozammel Haque. Witnesses said the violence broke out after Jamaat-e-Islami supporters began marching.

Stick-wielding ruling party supporters chased stone-throwing opposition supporters outside the Supreme Court and dozens of people were injured.

Public transportation in Dhaka was suspended, cutting the capital off from the rest of the country. The opposition blamed police for preventing buses and other vehicles from entering the city. Traffic was thin on Dhaka’s usually clogged streets, with many people staying home in fear of violence.

Local media reported that more than 650 people have been detained since Friday as part of a nationwide crackdown ahead of the elections on January 5, which the opposition is boycotting.

Police claimed they were acting to prevent acts of sabotage.

The opposition insists Sheikh Hasina should resign and hand over power to an independent caretaker to oversee the polls. He has vowed to go ahead with the elections.

More than 150 people have died in political clashes since October.