12/27/2013, 00.00
BANGLADESH
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Christians enjoy peaceful Christmas in Bangladesh but terrorism continues to cast its shadow

by Nozrul Islam
As the authorities lifted a travel ban and police protected the country's churches, no attacks were reported against the minority during the holidays. With elections approaching, the government continues to deploy tens of thousands of soldiers fearing further unrest. For many Bangladeshis, "there has never been so much tension in 40 years of independence."

Dhaka (AsiaNews) - Christians in Bangladesh spent a peaceful Christmas without violence, freely moving around the country as police protected their churches thanks to the government, which responded to an appeal for security made by some Catholic leaders.

However, the joy of the holidays is likely to give way very soon to fresh unrest. The leading opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) is planning a new general strike (hartal) on Sunday to oppose parliamentary elections set for 5 January 2014.

In response, the prime minister has ordered the deployment of tens of thousands of soldiers. For ordinary Bangladeshis, the ongoing violence makes for a very tense atmosphere like that of terrorism.

Meanwhile, "On Christmas Day, many policemen protected our churches. We did not have any problems," Subash Rozario, a Catholic from Natore District, told AsiaNews.

All of the country's top government and political leaders equally expressed closeness to the Christian community. Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and BNP Khaleda Zia leader stressed the role Christians play "in the social and educational development of the country", inviting everyone to "work together to build a prosperous Bangladesh free from religious conflicts. "

Still, despite the statements of good will, in practice there is no dialogue between the ruling party and opposition to resolve the current political and social crisis.

Khaleda Zia has reiterated her intention to boycott the general election if the prime minister does not agree to resign and form a caretaker government, a possibility Sheikh Hasina has rejected, saying that elections will occur "at all costs".

In recent months, several countries (including Russia and the United States) have tried to mediate between Hasina and Zia, to no avail. Only India continues to support the prime minister's position.

Given the situation, clashes continue raising concerns over sporadic violence and political assassinations.

"Newspapers are not saying much but local officials and politicians are increasingly being murdered on both sides. There has never been so much tension in 40 years of independence," local sources told AsiaNews, their name withheld for security reasons.

For some people, "even if it goes ahead, the election will be a farce, because there are no opponents." In fact, 150 candidates from the ruling Awami League have already been "elected" because they are running unopposed.

(Sumon Corraya contributed to this article)

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