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Train derailed in Bangladesh protests

27 November 2013, 19:47

Dhaka - Bangladesh opposition supporters derailed a train on Wednesday by ripping up railway tracks in more deadly protests against the timing of an election scheduled for January, as officials said the poll could be postponed.

Less than two days after the election commission fixed 5 January for the vote, senior officials indicated the date could be pushed back to accommodate demands by opposition parties who are threatening to boycott it.

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its allies want Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to resign to make way for a neutral caretaker government ahead of the elections.

They organised a nationwide blockade of roads, railways and waterways for a second day on Wednesday, forcing the closure of offices and businesses throughout the country as well as a halt to public transport.

Dozens of passengers were injured when a train derailed near the capital Dhaka after opposition supporters tore up sections of the track, as part of the blockade which has now been extended until Thursday night.

Bangladesh Railway director Saidur Rahman said the train tilted after coming off the tracks at Gazipur, a town north of Dhaka, after several sleepers were removed. Passengers suffered mostly minor injuries.

"We have suspended at least 10 train services because of uprooting of rail tracks at several places," Rahman told AFP.

Protesters also attacked and set fire to a train in the western town of Chuadanga.

On Tuesday authorities reported at least 60 attacks on the rail network, with coaches set alight and track torn up.

Twelve people have now been killed in a series of street battles between the opposition and security forces since Monday, with five of them dying on Wednesday. More than a hundred have been injured.

Pushing back the date

Aware that the legitimacy of any polls shunned by the opposition would be fatally compromised, election commissioners said they were prepared to push back the date.

"If there is consensus among the parties, the election date can be delayed to another date to make sure that all parties can participate in the polls," Md. Shahnawaz, one of the commissioners, told AFP.

The chief commissioner Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad, who announced the polling date in a televised address on Monday night, also gave a strong hint of a possible postponement.

"There is scope for everything, if an understanding is reached," he told reporters late on Tuesday.

Shahnawaz pointed out that elections had been rescheduled multiple times in the past to bring everyone on board, including last time round in December 2008.

"In the last polls, the election schedule was changed at least three times," he said.

Hasina has rejected calls for a caretaker administration and instead formed a multi-party interim cabinet last week which is composed of her allies. She asked the BNP to join the cabinet but it refused.

While previous elections have been held under non-partisan interim governments, Hasina scrapped the arrangement in 2011.

Neighbouring India is among those who have looked on with some alarm at the growing political violence in Bangladesh.

At least 42 people are known to have died since late October when the opposition parties launched their latest wave of demonstrations to try to force Hasina to stand down.

Widespread violence over the death sentences handed down to opposition leaders by a controversial war crimes court earlier this year left more than 150 people dead, making 2013 the most violent since the country's independence in 1971.

The latest victims of this week's clashes were a woman killed by a crude explosive device in Dhaka and three protesters and a ruling party activist who died in separate clashes elsewhere, police said.

Jahangir Hossain, police chief for the southern region of Satkhira region, told AFP that officers had used live rounds during clashes with hundreds of supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamist ally of the BNP which has been banned from contesting the election.


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