Bangladesh: voting centers engulfed in flames prior to nationwide elections

The eve of general elections in Bangladesh saw polling booths being set on fire, while four individuals, including two children, lost their lives in a suspected arson attack on a train. Authorities have arrested seven people in connection with the incident.

The police believe that the fire on the passenger train, which affected four coaches, was intended to intimidate individuals prior to the vote. However, at this time, no specific individuals or groups have been named as suspects.

Bangladesh elections are often marred by violence, and the upcoming voting is taking place amidst a deeply divided political climate led by two influential women: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, who is currently under house arrest.

The opposition, including Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party, has decided to boycott the vote, claiming that it will not be fair or free under Hasina’s leadership. They had demanded that she step aside and allow a neutral caretaker government to administer the polling, but the government argued that the constitution does not provide for such a provision.

The fire on the train broke out while it was en route to Dhaka’s main railway station at around 9 pm. Four bodies have been recovered from inside the train, and law enforcement officials believe the fire was an act of sabotage. Firefighting units were dispatched to extinguish the blaze.

Campaigning for the elections concluded on Friday morning, and the Election Commission has announced that polling will take place in 299 of the 300 constituencies on Sunday. The election in one constituency has been postponed due to the death of an independent candidate from natural causes.

A senior official from Zia’s party has called for a general strike lasting 48 hours, urging people not to vote on Sunday. In the capital, opposition leaders and activists held a march, chanting anti-government slogans.

In a televised campaign speech, Prime Minister Hasina sought forgiveness for any mistakes she may have made and requested the opportunity to serve the nation if re-elected.

In the lead-up to the elections, at least three individuals have lost their lives in political clashes. The United Nations expressed hopes for a transparent and organized electoral process.

Approximately 1.6 million people, including security personnel, will oversee the election, with 119.1 million registered voters eligible to cast their votes in over 42,000 polling stations. Troops have been deployed throughout the country to provide assistance when necessary, under the supervision of magistrates, a standard practice during general elections in Bangladesh.

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