01/04/2014, 00.00
BANGLADESH

Elections in Bangladesh: strikes and violence push Christians and Hindus not to vote

Sumon Corraya
Christians, Hindus and Buddhists speak of nationalists threats not to go to the polls . The opposition led by Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party ( BNP) began a new 48-hour strike today. The aim is to disrupt the parliamentary elections tomorrow and unleash chaos in the country. Polling stations and vehicles set on fire in Dhaka, Dinajpur and Feni .

Dhaka (AsiaNews) - Christians , Buddhists and Hindus fear for their safety ahead of nationwide parliamentary elections scheduled for tomorrow. What especially worries minorities are the violent strikes recently organized by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party ( BNP) of Khaleda Zia who are bringing the entire country to its knees . Today, the BNP launched 48 hour general strike in response to the refusal of the government led by premier Sheikh Hasina's Awami League to invoke a neutral party as a guarantor of the vote.

Many Christians state they will not vote like Buddhists and Hindus members of religious minorities. "I will not vote - explains Joachim Costa a Catholic of 55 - the elections will not be free and fair and we already know who will win ." The woman explains that people are afraid to go to the polls because of the constant threats of the opposition party . Even the Hindus will not go to vote . Raton Das , 42, told AsiaNews that the elections " are for a single party and it is useless to vote. Unfortunately there is no alternative". The population is discouraged by the contrast between the government and opposition, which instead of dialogue has taken the hard line of constant protest. The man explains that the streets there are even campaign posters to attract people to vote , "usually the campaign should take place in a festive atmosphere ."

Since January 1, BNP supporters have blocked roads, railways and waterways and in recent days there have been numerous incidents of violence and clashes with the police. Acts of guerrilla warfare, including the explosion of rudimentary bombs and the burning of automobiles, took place in Dhaka, Narayanganj , Bogra , Lakshmipur , Jhenaidah , Pabna , and Comilla . In Dinajpur ( North of the country ), two people died in a blaze of a truck set on fire by supporters of the BNP . Yesterday at Feni ( on the border with India ), five polling stations were set on fire .

According to the population , the now rampant and systematic violence is the worst the country has ever experienced in 40 years since Independence . Tensions rose after the opposition leader Khaleda Zia rejected an offer  from Prime Minister Hasina to join the oversight committee for the voting format of all parties. In 2013, over 500 people were killed in violence related to politics.

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