Bangladesh Deploys Army to Help Handle Jan. 5 Vote

DHAKA, Bangladesh - Authorities in Bangladesh began deploying military soldiers on Thursday to help civil administrators hold national elections on Jan. 5 that the opposition is boycotting.

The main opposition party and the allies joining its boycott insist Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina should resign and hand over power to a non-party caretaker government that would conduct the polls. She refuses and denies opposition claims of vote-rigging.

The military deployment came days after opposition leader and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia called for a march to the capital from around the country on Dec. 29 to pressure Hasina to cancel the elections. Zia has dubbed the planned demonstration a "march for democracy," but the government says it has been designed to unleash destruction.

The military said in a statement from its public relations office that the deployed soldiers will work as a "striking force" until Jan. 9.

The statement said the deployment was requested by the Election Commission to help the civil administration and that soldiers would also maintain order on major highways.

Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its main ally Jamaat-e-Islami have enforced weeks of blockades and general strikes to demand a caretaker government. More than 150 people have died in the political violence since October.

Jamaat-e-Islami's role has deepened the crisis as it wants the government to halt ongoing trials for crimes against humanity against its senior leaders involving the nation's independence war against Pakistan in 1971. One party leader has been executed while several others have been sentenced to death in two special tribunals set up by Hasina.

Jamaat-e-Islami is banned from taking part in elections.

Bangladesh says Pakistani soldiers, aided by local collaborators, killed 3 million people and raped 200,000 women during the nine-month war that created Bangladesh. Jamaat-e-Islami party openly campaigned against the creation of Bangladesh and it is blamed for forming citizens' brigades as associate groups of the Pakistani military during the war.

On Thursday, a close Zia aide, Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, accused the government of arresting opposition activists to suppress their movement.

At least nine police officials were injured after unidentified attackers threw crude bombs at a vehicle carrying the officials after an opposition rally ended Thursday in the northwestern city of Rajshahi, Somoy TV station reported.

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