Bangladesh deploys soldiers ahead of next Sunday’s elections

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Thousands of army soldiers are being deployed across Bangladesh to provide security and help conduct national elections next Sunday.

The deployment began early Monday and the soldiers will be on duty until Jan. 2, the military’s public relations office said.

The soldiers are setting up camps in 389 areas and navy personnel are fanning out across the coast, according to the statement. The air force is keeping helicopters ready for any urgent needs, and the soldiers will maintain order on important roads or highways whenever needed.

Earlier this month, authorities deployed paramilitary border forces in 87 bordering areas.

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While such deployment is common ahead of national elections in Bangladesh, the opposition has been strongly demanding the military’s engagement in the election process amid concern that violence could happen. The soldiers usually work as a striking force.

At least six people have died in recent weeks while hundreds have been injured.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is seeking to return to power for a third consecutive time in the Dec. 30 elections, which the opposition has alleged could be rigged. Authorities have pledged free and fair voting.

Kamal Hossain, who leads a major opposition alliance, welcomed the deployment, saying it would boost voters’ confidence.

Hossain has emerged as a strong challenger to Hasina since the country’s main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party — led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia — joined his opposition alliance front. Hossain is a prominent lawyer who has become the prime leader as Zia is serving prison terms for corruption.

Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest Islamist party in Bangladesh, is also a fierce opponent of Hasina. Most of the party’s leaders have been hanged under Hasina for crimes stemming from the war for independence against Pakistan in 1971.

Zia is Hasina’s arch rival, and an appeals court recently ruled she was disqualified from running for office as her jail term is more than two years.

The South Asian country’s 11th general election is going to happen amid opposition allegations that thousands of its leaders and activists have been arrested to weaken them. But authorities say the arrests are not politically motivated and the opposition is trying to create chaos ahead of elections.

Earlier this month, New York-based Human Rights Watch urged the international community to press the Bangladesh government to create conditions for a free and fair election.

The group criticized Bangladeshi security forces for “arresting and intimidating opposition figures and threatening freedom of expression ahead of the election.”

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