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Bangladesh turnout low in election set to keep PM Sheikh Hasina in power

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Bangladeshis largely stayed away from the polls in a general election on Sunday set to give Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina a fourth straight term, after a vote boycotted by the main opposition party and marred by violence.

Rights groups have warned of virtual one-party rule by Hasina’s Awami League in the South Asian country of 170 million people after the boycott by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and some smaller allies.

The United States and Western nations, key customers of Bangladesh’s garment industry, have called for a free and fair election, the 12th since independence from Pakistan in 1971.

Turnout was 27.15% at 3 p.m. (0900), an hour before polls closed, the election commission said, compared with overall turnout of more than 80% in the last election in 2018.

Voting was cancelled at three centres due to irregularities, said Jahangir Alam, secretary of the commission.

The BNP, boycotting the second of the past three elections, says Hasina’s party is trying to legitimise a sham vote. She refused BNP demands to resign and allow a neutral authority to run the election, accusing the opposition of instigating anti-government protests that have rocked Dhaka since late October and killed at least 14 people.

In her latest 15 years in power, Hasina, 76, has been credited with turning around Bangladesh’s economy and the key garment industry. But critics accuse her of authoritarianism, human rights violations, crackdowns on free speech and suppression of dissent.

At least four people were killed on Friday in a passenger train fire that the government called arson. Several polling booths, schools and a Buddhist monastery were set ablaze days before the poll.

A person in Munshiganj, south of the capital Dhaka, was hacked to death on Sunday morning, district police chief Mohammad Aslam Khan said, adding that it was unclear if the killing was related to political violence.

Police in Chandpur district about 110 km (70 miles) from Dhaka fired tear gas to disperse BNP supporters who had blocked roads to disrupt voting and threw stones at security forces, said district police chief Saiful Islam.

Supporters of the Awami League and independent candidates clashed in some districts, amid allegations that ruling party cadres were stuffing sealed ballot papers in voting boxes, local media reported.

Bangladesh deployed nearly 800,000 security forces to guard polling booths and troops were mobilised nationwide to assist in maintaining peace.

‘PEOPLE ARE MY POWER,’ HASINA SAYS

Hasina, accompanied by her daughter and other family members, voted at Dhaka’s City College minutes after polling began at 8 a.m. Initial results are expected early on Monday.

“Bangladesh is a sovereign country and people are my power,” Hasina said after voting, adding that she hoped her party would win the people’s mandate, which would give it a fifth term since 1996.

“I am trying my best to ensure that democracy should continue in this country.”

A winter chill and fog eased marginally during the day with people queuing up outside polling booths, according to Reuters witnesses.

About 120 million voters were choosing from nearly 2,000 candidates for 300 directly elected parliamentary seats. There are 436 independent candidates, the most since 2001.

The opposition BNP, its top leaders either in jail or exile, says the Awami League has propped up “dummy” candidates as independents to try to make the election look credible, a claim the ruling party denies.

The BNP called a two-day strike nationwide through Sunday, asking people to shun the election.

“PM Hasina has done a lot for the country. I’ll vote for her party,” said Anowar Hossain, 55, as he walked home after buying vegetables at a market in Dhaka.

College teacher Zayeda Begum, 55, was among dozens of women at a polling booth in the capital. She said she was happy with how Bangladesh was progressing, adding that she had cast her vote in favour of the ruling party.

Hasina said she did not need to prove the credibility of the election to anyone. “What is important is if the people of Bangladesh will accept this election.”

The economy has slowed sharply since the Russia-Ukraine war pushed up prices of fuel and food imports, forcing Bangladesh to turn last year to the International Monetary Fund for a bailout of $4.7 billion.

Fahim Faysal, 20, a BNP supporter and a first-time voter decided against voting due to the absence of the opposition party.

“The government is doing many things but there are no employment opportunities,” he said. “I feel it would have been better if BNP contested. Anyway, it’s their decision.”

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Quota Reform Leaders Reject Govt Talks, Vow to Continue Protests

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Quota Reform Leaders Reject Govt Talks, Vow to Continue Protests

Leaders of the quota reform movement have resolutely refused to negotiate with the government, insisting that their movement will persist until their demands are met.

In a Facebook post, Hasnat Abdullah, a coordinator of the movement, declared, “No discussion through stepping onto blood.”

Asif Mahmud, another prominent leader, echoed this sentiment, stating, “There can be no dialogue with bullets. I would prefer death over this betrayal.”

He further elaborated, “On one side, there are bullets. On the other, there is a call for dialogue. We can’t sit for dialogue while stepping onto the blood of our brothers.”

Earlier, leaders of the quota reform movement accused the government of escalating the law and order situation towards violence, asserting that their movement was peaceful until the government’s intervention.

Vowing to continue their struggle, Asif Mahmud stated, “We will continue our protests till we achieve our demands for reformation of the quota system, reopening of the halls and campuses, making university campuses terror-free, withdrawing political forces from the campuses, and punishing the killers and attackers.”

He added, “The people of the country have encircled those who tried to corner us. No conspiracy will be able to derail our movement.”

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PM Sheikh Hasina Calls for Investment in Marine Resource Extraction

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Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina today urged both local and international investors to invest in the extraction of marine resources from Bangladesh’s extensive sea areas.

“In order to fortify the blue economy through the diverse utilization of our marine resources, I call upon local and foreign investors to seize the opportunity to invest in Bangladesh. This will enable us to harness more of our marine resources,” she announced.

The Prime Minister made these remarks during the inauguration of the Bangladesh International Aquaculture and Seafood Show-2024 at the Bangabandhu International Conference Centre (BICC) in Dhaka.

She emphasized the importance of adhering to proper standards in the collection, distribution, and processing of fish to boost exports, aiming to make fish the country’s second-largest source of foreign currency.

Sheikh Hasina pointed out that her government has made limited progress in harvesting fish and other sea resources from the deep sea due to a lack of interest from local investors.

“Therefore, we need foreign investment to advance in this area. This is the reality we must face,” she noted.

She also suggested that both local and foreign investors can collaborate in joint ventures or invest separately in this sector to achieve better results.

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Met Forecasts Rain and Thundershowers Nationwide

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The Bangladesh Meteorological Department (BMD) has forecasted light to moderate and moderately heavy rainfall or thundershowers, accompanied by temporary gusty winds, across all eight divisions of the country over the next 24 hours, starting from 9 am today.

In its weather bulletin issued this morning, the BMD stated, “Light to moderate rain or thundershowers with temporary gusty wind is expected in a few places over Rangpur, Mymensingh, Chattogram, and Sylhet divisions. Additionally, one or two places in Rajshahi, Dhaka, Khulna, and Barisal divisions may experience similar conditions, with moderately heavy falls anticipated at several locations in Rangpur, Mymensingh, Chattogram, and Sylhet divisions.”

The bulletin also highlighted that the current mild heat wave sweeping across the Rangpur division and the districts of Tangail, Chuadanga, Rajshahi, Pabna, Bogra, and Netrokona may persist.

Daytime temperatures are expected to rise slightly, while nighttime temperatures are likely to remain nearly unchanged throughout the country.

On Wednesday, the highest recorded temperature was 36.7 degrees Celsius, observed in Rajshahi, Rangpur, and Rajarhat. The lowest temperature recorded today was 26.0 degrees Celsius, noted in Bandarban and Teknaf.

Over the last 24 hours, rainfall amounted to 16 mm in Bandarban.

For the capital, the sun will set at 6:48 pm today and rise at 5:21 am tomorrow.

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