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Voting begins for general elections in Bangladesh

Voting begins for general elections in Bangladesh

The alliance running against Hasina, led by the main opposition Bangladesh National Party, branded the vote "farcical" and urged the country's election commission to void the results.

"I will accept the verdict given by the people", Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said, reported local news agency UNB, denying allegations of voting irregularities. He said the alliance would hold a meeting Monday to decide its next course.

Calls to several Hasina aides seeking comment were not immediately returned.

On Sunday, The Associated Press received more than 50 calls from people across the country who identified themselves as Opposition supporters complaining of intimidation and threats, and being forced to vote in front of ruling party men inside polling booths.

Hundreds of opposition workers were arrested in the months before the election on charges that the opposition said were " fictitious", and many said they were attacked by ruling party activists, crippling their ability to campaign. Candidates of the alliance reported witnessing ballot-stuffing and vote rigging by ruling party activists, who also barred opposition polling agents from voting centers, Hossain said.

"Some stray incidents have happened. We have asked our officials to deal with them", K.M. Nurul Huda, Bangladesh's chief election commissioner, said as he cast his vote in the capital, Dhaka.

The alliance dominated by Hasina's Awami League, seen as close to regional power India, won 287 of the 298 seats for which results have been declared for the 300-strong parliament, the commission said.

Hasina said the issue of her arch-rival Zia is a matter of court.

Polling workers appointed by candidates showed Election Commission officials empty ballot boxes before the first paper ballot was cast. The two women have alternated in power for most of the past three decades but Khaleda has been in jail since February on corruption charges that she says are politically motivated.

In Zia's absence, the opposition is led by Kamal Hossain, an 82-year-old Oxford-educated lawyer and former member of Hasina's Awami League party.

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At Bangladesh's last elections in 2014, the BNP boycotted the vote claiming it was not free and fair.

As many as 57 opposition and independent candidates, including 26 Jamaat-e-Islami adherents, pulled out of the race when the voting was still in progress.

Annual growth in the Muslim-majority country of 165 million people rose to 7.8 percent in the 2017/18 financial year that ended on June 30, compared with 5.1 percent when Hasina took over in 2008/09. "Branded authoritarian by the Western media now is a badge of honour" Wazed, who lives in Washington D.C. and runs an IT business in the United States, said in the prime minister's official residence in Dhaka.

Bangladesh went to the polls between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Sunday.

"We've had bad elections in the past but I must say that it is unprecedented how bad this particular election was".

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

The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, the nation's top telecommunications regulator, has ordered mobile providers to shut down all 3G and 4G services until midnight on December 30, effective immediately, Al Jazeera reported on Saturday.

The situation at most of the polling centres in Dhaka city was peaceful, except allegations of vote rigging at few centres.

At one polling station, Istiaq Ahmed, a doctor in Dhaka, said it was critical that people "select the right government to maintain the development and enrich our country further".


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