Death Toll Rises To 77 In India, Bangladesh Cyclones

A resident collects belongings from inside a house destroyed by the cyclone “Fani” in Puri in the eastern Indian state of Odisha on May 11, 2019.  ASIT KUMAR / AFP

 

The death toll from a major cyclone that hit eastern India and Bangladesh in early May rose to 77 on Monday as anger grew over millions of people still without power and water.

Cyclone Fani, the first summer cyclone to hit India’s Bay of Bengal coast in 43 years, made landfall in Odisha state on May 3 packing winds up to 200 kilometres (125 miles) per hour.

The winds damaged half a million houses, uprooted hundreds of thousands of trees and knocked out power, telecommunications and water for millions of people in one of India’s poorest states.

The Indian death toll, which earlier stood at 41, shot up with fresh casualties reported from Puri and Khurda districts on Sunday. Thirteen people also perished in Bangladesh after Fani barrelled northwards.

“The toll has gone up to 64 with maximum deaths (39) reported from Puri,” an official at the State Emergency Operation Centre told AFP.

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India initially won praise, including from the United Nations, for moving some 1.2 million people to safety before the storm arrived, in what Odisha’s chief minister called the “biggest human evacuation in history”.

But this praise has turned to anger for many local people at what they see as the slow pace of reconstruction and apathy from the authorities.

“I have lost my thatched house in the cyclone. No one from the government has come to see my damaged house,” Shantilata Mishra, a resident in the Puri district, was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency.

“I do not know when they will assess the damage and give me assistance to construct my house,” she said.

Angry survivors have even been taking to the streets to protest the slow pace of relief as well as high prices of essential food items and water.

On Sunday, demonstrators blocking roads in Odisha’s state capital Bhubaneswar said a lack of coordination among various government agencies was compounding their misery.

“There is a limit to our patience. We are being made to spend sleepless nights. We have to purchase drinking water at exorbitant prices,” a protester told PTI.

Another protester said the government had failed to provide “basic necessities such as water and power despite having promised to restore power supply by Sunday”.

Odisha’s Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has said the assessment of damaged houses would begin on May 15 and promised financial help to affected families.

Senior officers will supervise the assessment process and “all efforts will be made to ensure that not a single beneficiary is left out”, his office tweeted Sunday.

On Sunday a nine-member team from Delhi arrived to take stock of the damage.

Normally the storms hit around October and November and Fani was only the third cyclone to come off the Bay of Bengal in the summer months in 150 years.

In 1999 the same state was hit by a super-cyclone that left nearly 10,000 dead.

AFP

 

Bangladesh Rescues 23 Rohingya Girls From Traffickers

Bangladesh on the map

 

Twenty-three teenage Rohingya girls were rescued after being brought from refugee camps to the capital Dhaka to be sent to Malaysia by air, Bangladesh police said Sunday.

Dhaka police also arrested four human traffickers including a Rohingya couple and recovered over 50 Bangladeshi passports from them on Saturday.

Police spokesman Mokhlesur Rahman said they raided a residence in the northern part of the city and found the teenagers hiding in a room behind a tailoring shop.

“They were promised jobs in Malaysia and brought from refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar,” he told AFP, referring to the Rohingya settlements in Bangladesh’s southeastern coastal district.

The girls — aged between 15 and 19 — could have been potential victims of forced prostitution, the official said.

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“We have filed cases against the four arrested persons and sent the girls back to their camps in Cox’s Bazar,” Rahman said.

Abul Khair, local police chief of Ukhiya, where Kutupalong, the largest refugee camp in the world, is situated, said he received the girls and would send them to their homes in the camps.

Some 740,000 Rohingya Muslims fled a brutal military clampdown in Myanmar in August 2017 and arrived in Bangladesh to join another 300,000 already living in the refugee camps.

Desperate for a better life and an economic future, the refugees including in particular teenage girls easily fall prey to human traffickers roaming in the overcrowded camps.

Thousands of the refugees have risked their lives travelling to Malaysia and Thailand — mainly by boat — when the Bay of Bengal is calm before monsoon season sets in at the end of May.

Bangladeshi authorities have stopped over 300 Rohingya this year alone from attempting such perilous boat journeys on rickety fishing boats.

Many have also attempted to fly to Malaysia and Middle Eastern countries by procuring Bangladeshi passports and travel documents.

Jishu Barua, an aid worker specialised in human trafficking prevention, said he dealt with 100 cases of human trafficking in the camps in the last six weeks.

“But this figure represents only a small portion of what is actually going on,” he told AFP.

AFP

Bangladeshi Student Burnt To Death On Teacher’s Order – Police

Bangladeshi women hold placards and photographs of schoolgirl Nusrat Jahan Rafi at a protest in Dhaka, following her murder by being set on fire after she had reported a sexual assault. SAZZAD HOSSAIN / AFP

 

 

A schoolgirl was burned to death in Bangladesh on the orders of her head teacher after she reported him for sexually harassing her, police said Friday.

The death of 19-year-old Nusrat Jahan Rafi last week sparked protests across the South Asian nation, with the prime minister promising to prosecute all those involved.

Rafi was lured to the rooftop of the Islamic seminary she attended where her attackers asked her to withdraw the sexual harassment complaint she had filed with police.

When she refused, she was doused in kerosene and set on fire.

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Police said Friday that one of the 17 people arrested in connection with her death had accused the school’s principal of ordering the attack.

The teacher “told them to put pressure on Rafi to withdraw the case or kill her if she refused”, senior police superintendent Mohammad Iqbal, who is leading the investigation, told AFP.

Rafi had gone to police in late March to report the sexual harassment, and a leaked video shows the local police station chief registering her complaint but dismissing it as “not a big deal”.

Iqbal said at least five of those under arrest, including three of Rafi’s classmates, had tied her up with a scarf before setting her on fire.

“The plan was to pass the incident off as a suicide. But it fell through after Rafi managed to come downstairs while on fire because the scarf burnt and freed her hands and feet,” he said.

Rafi suffered burns to 80 percent of her body and died in hospital on April 10.

But she recorded a video before her death, repeating her allegations against the principal.

“The teacher touched me, I will fight this crime till my last breath,” she said. She also identified some of her attackers.

Rafi’s brother Mahmudul Hasan Noman said people close to the principal had also put pressure on the family to withdraw the case against him.

“They told us that it was a conspiracy against him and that it was fabricated,” he told AFP.

The case has caused outrage in Bangladesh, with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina vowing that “none of the culprits will be spared legal action.”

Rights groups say the number of rape and sexual assault cases has increased in Bangladesh because authorities have failed to prosecute attackers.

“The horrifying murder of a brave woman who sought justice shows how badly the Bangladesh government has failed victims of sexual assault,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

“Nusrat Jahan Rafi’s death highlights the need for the Bangladesh government to take survivors of sexual assault seriously and ensure that they can safely seek a legal remedy and be protected from retaliation,” she added.

The local Manusher Jonno Foundation, a non-governmental group, says at least 39 children under the age of 18 have been raped in the country since April 2.

Another eight have been subjected to attempted or sexual harassment, the groups says.

AFP

Court Sentences Five War Criminals To Death In Bangladesh

 

A Bangladesh court sentenced five men to death in absentia for atrocities perpetrated during the country’s war of independence in 1971, prosecutors said Thursday.

A special court said the fugitives were found guilty of serial abuses during the war, which saw Bangladesh gain independence from Pakistan. Critics say the so-called International Crimes Tribunal, which has no international oversight, is politically motivated and used to target the opposition.

“They were charged with murder, abduction, looting, arson and rape in Netrokona in 1971,” prosecutor M.R. Badol told AFP, referring to a northern district some 170 kilometres (106 miles) from Dhaka.

Prosecutors said the four accused were connected to Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest Islamist party in Bangladesh and one allied to the country’s main opposition party.

The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina accuses Jamaat of collaborating with Pakistani forces during the war and has banned it as a political outfit.

Bangladesh says Pakistani troops, aided by local militias, killed three million people and raped 200,000 women during the nine-month war. Independent researchers put the figures much lowers.

READ ALSOWorkers Jump To Their Deaths As Dhaka Office Block Fire Kills 19

Hasina, whose father was Bangladesh’s first post-independence prime minister, created the war crimes tribunal in 2010.

So far, six key opposition leaders have been executed by the tribunal

The government insists the trials have been fair and meet international standards, despite strident criticism from rights groups.

Hasina won a fourth term in office in December in a landslide victory for her ruling Awami League party. The poll was marred by widespread allegations of graft, and most of Hasina’s opponents were jailed and unable to contest.

Workers Jump To Their Deaths As Dhaka Office Block Fire Kills 19

 

Desperate workers leaped to their deaths as a huge fire tore through a Dhaka office block Thursday, killing at least 19 people and trapping others in the latest major inferno to hit the Bangladesh capital.

Rescue workers warned the death toll could rise sharply as fire fighters recovered charred bodies from the complex where an unknown number of office workers were engulfed by intense smoke and flames.

At least six people died after jumping from the 22-floor building, officials said.

Dhaka police chief Asaduzzaman Mia told reporters at least 73 people were injured and being treated in hospitals across Dhaka.

People were seen screaming for help as hundreds of panicked onlookers crowded the streets of the upmarket Banani commercial district.

Some workers slid down a television cable on the side of the building. Others grabbed ropes lowered by emergency service helicopters which pulled them out of the blaze.

The inferno erupted barely a month after at least 70 people were killed in Dhaka apartment buildings where illegally stored chemicals exploded.

The latest disaster brought new scenes of horror amid fears that the toll would rise. More than 100 ambulances were parked in streets around the building.

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Shoikot Rahman heard colleagues raise the alarm and ran to safety before smoke and flames engulfed the building.

“When I heard a fire broke out in the building, I quickly rushed out,” he told AFP. “Many of my colleagues are still trapped in the office.”

Firefighters on long ladders smashed windows to create escape routes. More than one hour after the blaze erupted people could still be seen on the 13th and 14th floors desperately waving for help amid clouds of black smoke.

Army helicopters dangled ropes that victims grabbed so they could be lifted to safety, with crowds below cheering and applauding every time someone was rescued.

Rescuers kept at bay

Three hospitals reported that six men and women had died or arrived with fatal injuries after jumping from the office block. They included a Sri Lankan man whose body was taken to the army’s Kurmitola Hospital.

Dilkhosh Ahmed at the Banani Clinic said one of the victims had attempted to use the television cable to climb down, but slipped and fell around the eighth floor.

A seventh death from burns was recorded at the Dhaka Medical College hospital.

Helicopters were deployed to drop water on the blaze as scores of firefighters backed by navy and air force specialists struggled to bring it under control.

A top fire official said the flames had been stopped from spreading to adjoining buildings.

“Teams have entered the building and they are scouring the floors for any remaining victims. The building did not have fire fighting equipment,” said Lieutenant Colonel Julfikar Rahman of the Dhaka fire service told reporters.

Rescue crews were soon discovering bodies and carrying them out one after the other in white bags.

Some workers told of risky escapes.

“My uncle and two more people jumped from their floor. His hand and leg are broken and his eye is damaged,” one man said without giving his name.

A man who gave his name as Jico said he had been working on the 19th floor. “The fire started in a restaurant on the sixth floor. We ran to the roof as soon as we heard about it and then used a wooden plank to get over to the next building.”

Fire disasters regularly hit Bangladesh’s major cities where safety standards are notoriously lax.

A massive blaze in Dhaka’s old quarter on February 21 killed at least 70 people and injured 50 others.

Fire service officials said chemicals illegally stored in an apartment building exploded and set alight five buildings and nearby streets. That blaze took more than 12 hours to control.

A June 2010 fire in the nearby neighbourhood of Nimtoli, one of the most densely populated districts of the capital, killed 123 people.

In November 2012, a fire swept through a nine-story garment factory near Dhaka killing 111 workers. An investigation found it was caused by sabotage and that managers at the plant had prevented victims from escaping.

Experts said inspections of buildings in the city frequently found fire stairs blocked with stored goods and exit doors locked.

AFP

Suspected Plane Hijacker Killed In Bangladesh

 

Bangladesh commandoes shot and killed a purported hijacker who had tried to enter the cockpit of a Biman Bangladesh Airlines flight on Sunday, forcing the pilot to make an emergency landing, airline and aviation authority officials said.

The purported hijacker, who told the pilot he had a personal issue with his wife and wanted to speak to Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, died when the commandos stormed the plane at Chittagong’s Shah Amanat International Airport, officials said.

“We tried to arrest him or get him to surrender but he refused and then we shot him,” said Major General S M Motiur Rahman of the Bangladesh Army.

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Before the commandos moved in, all 142 passengers and most of the crew had been let off the aircraft unharmed. One crew member had been kept as a hostage, the officials said.

Air Vice Marshal Nayeem Hasan, chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh, said the man appeared to have a pistol and had explosives around his body. It was not immediately clear if the pistol or the explosives were real.

The man appeared to be in his 20s, was probably Bangladeshi as he was speaking Bangla, but his identity was not yet clear, the officials said.

The Boeing 737 aircraft was scheduled to go from Dhaka to Dubai via Chittagong. The purported hijacking happened after it had taken off from Dhaka

PHOTOS: Bangladesh Inferno Kills 70

 

Dozens of people were killed in the Bangladesh capital Dhaka on Thursday in a blaze that ripped through apartment buildings where chemicals were stored.

Fires and building collapses are common in the country — particularly in the multi-billion dollar garment industry — where building regulations are lax and volatile chemicals are often improperly kept.

Below are some more photos from the fire incident that has left at least 70 people dead.

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Inferno Kills At Least 70 In Dhaka Apartment Blocks

 

At least 70 people were killed when a fire tore through crumbling apartment blocks in a historic part of Dhaka, setting off a chain of explosions and a wall of flames down nearby streets, officials said Thursday.

It started in one building where chemicals for deodorants and other household uses were illegally stored and spread at lightning speed to four nearby buildings, the fire service said.

People became trapped by the flames at a nearby bridal party and a restaurant. TV images showed the gates to one building were chained up so residents were unable to escape.

Traffic jams in the clogged narrow streets held up the rescue operation.

Bangladesh fire chief Ali Ahmed said at least 70 people were killed but that the toll would likely rise.

“The number of bodies may increase. The search is still going on,” he told AFP.

Doctors said at least 10 of the scores of injured were in critical condition.

Firefighters who took almost 12 hours to bring the fire under control, went through the blackened floors of the building, littered with spray cans, looking for bodies.

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The fire started at about 10.40pm (1640 GMT) on Wednesday at Chawkbazar in the old Mughal part of the capital.

Ahmed said it may have been started by a gas cylinder and quickly spread through the building where chemicals were stored in rooms alongside the apartments.

Chemicals used for household products were also stored in the nearby buildings. They exploded as the fire spread, witnesses said.

“There was a traffic jam when the fire broke out. It spread so quickly that people could not escape,” the fire chief said.

Another fire official told reporters the blaze was under control but was not extinguished despite the efforts of more than 200 firefighters.

“It will take time. This is not like any other fire,” he said, adding that the inferno had been made more devastating by the “highly combustible” chemicals.

Fire trucks had struggled in the narrow streets to reach the scene and there was also a lack of water for the battle, officials said.

The main gate of one five-storey building was chained up, trapping residents inside, according to images shown on Bangladesh television.

– ‘Flames were everywhere’ –
Members of a bridal party in a nearby community centre were also caught in the fire and many were injured. Others were caught in small restaurants.

Dhaka deputy police commissioner Ibrahim Khan said at least two cars and 10 cycle rickshaws were burned in the fire.

“The victims included passersby, some people who were eating food at restaurants and some members of the bridal party,” he told AFP.

“I saw the charred body of a woman who was holding her daughter in her lap as their rickshaw was caught in the fire,” said one witness.

Haji Abdul Kader, whose shop was destroyed, said he only survived the blaze as he had left to go to a pharmacy.

“When I was at the pharmacy, I heard a big bang. I turned back and saw the whole street, which was jam-packed with cars and rickshaws, in flames. Flames were everywhere,” he told AFP.

“I got burned and rushed to a hospital,” he said.

Doctors at Dhaka Medical College Hospital said at least 55 people were injured, including 10 in a critical condition.

Hundreds of people rushed to the hospital looking for missing relatives.

However, most of the bodies of the dead were charred beyond recognition.

Sohag Hossain, one of the injured, told the Daily Star that he and two friends were working at a plastic factory in one of the buildings at the time of the fire.

They heard an explosion and could not escape the flames.

A similar blaze in 2010 in an old Dhaka building, which was also used as a chemical warehouse, killed more than 120 people in one of the worst fire disasters in the city of 20 million people.

Dhaka authorities launched a crackdown on chemical warehouses in residential areas following the blaze, but efforts to rein in the practice have waned.

Many buildings in Bangladesh lack adequate fire safety measures and the enforcement of fire regulations in factories and apartment buildings is lax.

AFP

Bangladesh Shuts 20,000 Websites In Anti-Porn War

Bangladesh on the map

 

Bangladesh authorities have blocked almost 20,000 websites as part of an anti-pornography “war”, a minister said Tuesday.

Internet providers in the conservative Muslim-majority nation took down pornography and gambling websites in the past week under orders from the telecommunications regulator.

“I want to create a safe and secure internet for all Bangladeshis, including children. And this is my war against pornography. And this will be a continuous war,” Mustafa Jabbar, the posts and telecommunications minister, told AFP.

Popular social media apps such as TikTok and Bigo — which authorities believe are misused — have also been blocked in the South Asian nation, Jabbar said.

Most of the blocked sites are foreign, but a few local websites and social media platforms have also faced action under the crackdown, he added.

The crackdown was launched after Bangladesh’s High Court in November asked the government to block pornography websites and publication of obscene materials in electronic forms for six months.

The court acted after a civil society organisation filed a petition stating that a large number of adult websites contain uncensored and obscene content.

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On Sunday, police reprimanded a rising actress and told her to remove provocative images from her Facebook, Instagram and TikTok pages.

“We are monitoring the local Facebook profiles, YouTube channels and websites also,” Jabbar said.

“A few of them were taken down for having obscene content. We advised a few others not to post anything that goes against our social norms.”

Bangladesh — a country of 165 million people — has more than 90 million internet users. Porn stars regularly top the list of the most searched names.

Emdadul Hoque, general secretary of the internet service providers association, said they have complied with the order, but many users can still access online porn by using virtual private networks or mirror websites.

“This is a continuous process and it needs regular monitoring. These websites are very well aware of the regulations and they come up with thousands of mirror sites every week,” Hoque told AFP.

AFP

Bangladesh PM Wins Election Landslide As Opponents Demand New Vote

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina (R) flashes the victory symbol after casting her vote, as her daughter Saima Wazed Hossain (1st L) and her sister Sheikh Rehana (2nd L) look on at a polling station in Dhaka on December 30, 2018. 

 

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was declared the landslide winner Monday of an election marred by deadly violence that the opposition slammed as “farcical” and rigged.

Hasina’s ruling Awami League party and its allies won 288 seats in the 300-seat parliament, with the main opposition securing only six seats, Election Commission secretary Helal Uddin Ahmed said.

Sunday’s vote, which hands Hasina a record fourth term, was overshadowed by clashes between rival supporters that killed at least 17 people and allegations of ballot box stuffing and intimidation at polling stations.

Hasina’s government had mounted a crackdown on the opposition, an alliance led by the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), which urged the country’s election commission to void the results.

“We are demanding that a fresh election is held under a neutral government as early as possible,” Kamal Hossain, who heads the alliance, told reporters.

Deadly violence that blighted the election campaign spilled over into voting day, even as authorities imposed tight security with 600,000 troops, police and other security forces deployed across the country.

Thirteen people were killed in clashes between Awami League and BNP supporters, police said, while three men were shot by police who said they were protecting polling booths.

An auxiliary police member was also killed by armed opposition activists, according to officials.

 ‘We’ll cast your vote’ 

Hasina, 71, has been lauded for boosting economic growth in the poor South Asian nation during her decade in power and for welcoming Rohingya refugees fleeing a military crackdown in neighbouring Myanmar.

But critics accuse her of authoritarianism and crippling the opposition — including arch-rival and BNP leader Khaleda Zia who is serving 17 years in prison on graft charges.

The opposition alliance accused Hasina’s party of using stuffed ballot boxes and other illegal means to fix the result.

BNP spokesman Syed Moazzem Hossain Alal said there were “irregularities” in 221 of the 300 seats contested.

Bangladesh election commission spokesman S.M. Asaduzzaman told AFP the body had “received a few allegations of irregularities” and was investigating.

Hasina has not responded to the accusations but said in the run-up to the vote that it would be free and fair.

One voter, Atiar Rahman, said he was beaten by ruling party activists in the central district of Narayanganj.

“They told me not to bother, ‘We’ll cast your vote on your behalf’,” he told AFP.

The opposition said the unrest was stirred up to deter voters, and presiding officers reported a low turnout across the country.

Sunday’s deaths brought to 21 the official police toll for election violence since the ballot was announced on November 8.

 Free and fair? 

Experts say Hasina’s victory will be sullied by accusations that she hamstrung opponents.

“This result might affect our democratic system and might also damage state institutions,” Sakhawat Hussain, a former election commissioner, told AFP.

A man on the streets of Dhaka Monday who was too scared to give his name said: “What is the point of saying anything? We have to accept the results and the fact we have a crippled opposition.”

The opposition claims some 15,000 of its activists were detained during the campaign, crushing its ability to mobilise support.

Thirty-five of its candidates were either arrested over what they said were trumped-up charges or disqualified from running by courts, which Hasina’s opponents say are government controlled.

The United States and the United Nations raised concerns about the credibility of the election while Human Rights Watch and other international groups said the crackdown had created a climate of fear.

The leadership of Bangladesh has alternated between Hasina and Zia, allies-turned-foes, over the last three decades.

Hasina’s victory secures her third consecutive term in office, and fourth overall.

A daughter of Bangladesh’s first president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Hasina was a gifted victory in the 2014 election when the BNP boycotted the vote claiming it was not free and fair.

Rights groups have since accused her administration of stifling freedom of speech by toughening a draconian anti-press law and the enforced disappearance of dissenters.

Hasina rejects accusations of authoritarianism but analysts say she feared young voters would support the BNP.

Her government was criticised this year for its heavy handling of weeks of major student protests that brought Dhaka to a standstill.

AFP

Bangladesh PM Hasina Heading For Landslide After Deadly Election Violence

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina (R) flashes the victory symbol after casting her vote, as her daughter Saima Wazed Hossain (1st L) and her sister Sheikh Rehana (2nd L) look on at a polling station in Dhaka on December 30, 2018. 

 

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina appeared headed for a landslide win in a general election Sunday that was marred by clashes between rival supporters that killed 14 people and opposition claims of rigged voting.

Early results showed Hasina’s Awami League racing into a clear lead, quickly securing 61 seats against one for the opposition — some by tens of thousands of votes — according to Channel 24, which is compiling results from around the country.

The alliance of parties running against Hasina branded the election “farcical” and urged the country’s election commission to void the results.

“We are demanding that a fresh election is held under a neutral government as early as possible,” Kamal Hossain, who heads the coalition, told reporters.

Deadly violence and bitter rivalry that marred the election campaign spilled over into voting day, even as authorities imposed tight security with 600,000 troops, police and other security forces deployed across the country.

Ten people were killed in clashes between Awami League and the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) supporters, police said, while three men were shot by police who said they were protecting polling booths.

An auxiliary police member was also killed by armed opposition activists, according to officials.

Hasina, 71, has been lauded for boosting economic growth in the poor South Asian nation during her decade in power and for welcoming Rohingya refugees fleeing a military crackdown in neighbouring Myanmar.

But critics accuse her of authoritarianism and crippling the opposition — including arch-rival and BNP leader Khaleda Zia who is serving 17 years in prison on graft charges — to cling on to power.

The BNP-led opposition alliance Sunday accused Hasina’s party of using stuffed ballot boxes and other illegal means to fix the result, which was to be officially announced Monday.

BNP spokesman Syed Moazzem Hossain Alal told reporters there were “irregularities” in 221 of the 300 seats contested.

“Voters are not allowed to enter booths. Especially women voters are being forced to vote for the boat,” Alal said, referring to the Awami League symbol.

 ‘We’ll cast your vote’ 

Bangladesh election commission spokesman S.M. Asaduzzaman told AFP the body had “received a few allegations of irregularities” and was investigating.

Authorities shut down high-speed internet services during polling “to prevent the spread of rumours” that could trigger unrest. One independent television news channel complained that its broadcasts were blocked.

Voting in the capital Dhaka was largely peaceful as convoys of soldiers and paramilitary forces were on the streets where most traffic was banned.

“I have never missed voting in my life. This is probably the last election for me and I want a suitable candidate for my country,” 98-year-old Abdus Salam said at a Dhaka polling station.

However, voters in provincial areas reported intimidation. Atiar Rahman said he was beaten by ruling party activists in the central district of Narayanganj.

“They told me not to bother, ‘We’ll cast your vote on your behalf’,” he told AFP.

The opposition said the unrest was stirred up to deter voters, and presiding officers reported a low turnout across the country.

Sunday’s deaths brought to 18 the official police toll for election violence since the ballot was announced on November 8.

Police said they acted “in self-defence” in the southern town of Bashkhali, when they fired on opposition supporters who stormed a polling booth, killing one.

In a separate incident, a man was shot by police after he tried to steal a ballot box.

 Free and fair?

Hasina needs 151 seats to control parliament but experts say a victory would be sullied by accusations that she hamstrung opponents.

The opposition says more than 15,000 of its activists were detained during the campaign, crushing its ability to mobilise support.

Human Rights Watch and other international groups said the crackdown created a climate of fear which could prevent opposition supporters from casting ballots.

The United States raised concerns about the credibility of the election while the United Nations called for greater efforts to make the vote fair.

Seventeen opposition candidates were arrested over what they claim are trumped-up charges while another 17 were disqualified from running by courts, which Hasina’s opponents say are government controlled.

The Bangladeshi leadership has alternated between Hasina and Zia, allies-turned-foes, over the last three decades.

Hasina rejects accusations of authoritarianism but analysts say she feared young voters would support the BNP.

Her government was criticised this year for its heavy handling of weeks of major student protests that brought Dhaka to a standstill.

Hasina, daughter of Bangladesh’s first president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was a gifted victory in the 2014 election when the BNP boycotted the vote claiming it was not free and fair.

Rights groups have since accused her administration of stifling freedom of speech by toughening a draconian anti-press law and the enforced disappearance of dissenters.

AFP

Bangladesh Opposition Rejects Election Results, Calls For Fresh Vote

A sealed ballot box is seen after voting ended at a polling station in Dhaka on December 30, 2018. 
Munir UZ ZAMAN / AFP

 

Bangladesh’s opposition rejected election results Sunday that showed Prime Minister Sheikha Hasina heading for a landslide victory and demanded a new vote.

“We urge the election commission to void this farcial result immediately,” opposition leader Kamal Hossain told reporters.

“We are demanding that a fresh election is held under a neutral government as early as possible,” he added.

AFP