2 killed, 38 polling centres set on fire ahead of Bangladesh polls

Renewed violence on the eve of Bangladesh's general election left at least two persons dead today as opposition activists set afire 38 polling centres and a train while enforcing a 48-hour nationwide strike aimed at derailing the controversial polls. The main opposition BNP called the strike from this morning in a last ditch effort to scuttle the polls, which the Awami League looks set to win due to a boycott by opposition parties.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party urged voters to "fully boycott" what its chief Khaleda Zia described as a "stigmatised farce". She accused the government of keeping her under "house arrest".

An Awami League activist and a BNP worker were killed as violence erupted in parts of Bangladesh after the 18-party opposition alliance led by the BNP began enforcing the strike.

Suspected activists of BNP and its fundamentalist ally Jamaat-e-Islami set on fire 38 polling centres in several districts, including Dhaka, during a span of 12 hours. Media described the attacks on polling centres as unprecedented.

Reports said unidentified men torched makeshift polling centres, mostly housed in schools, after Zia called for protests to be intensified.

Strikers in northern Natore district set fire to a train by hurling a petrol bomb, injuring 12 passengers. The attack was followed by a clash between BNP and Awami League supporters.

The strike is in addition to an indefinite blockade of roads, railways and waterways since January 1. The opposition called the strike to intensify street protests against the

polls. Without the participation of the BNP and its allies, polling would be held in only 147 of 300 constituencies, Election Commission (EC) officials said. Candidates in the other constituencies would be declared elected unopposed.

"We have wrapped up preparations to conduct the polls on Sunday...the polling will start at 8 am and continue till 4 pm," an EC spokesman told reporters.

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