- Opposition party, allies call for two-day general strike
- Protesters don't trust the prime minister and her government
- There are more than 18,000 polling centers across the country
Anti-government protesters in Bangladesh torched over 100 polling centers before the general elections scheduled for Sunday, police and officials said.
Opposition political parties have called for a boycott of the elections, but the government said the elections would go on.
The largest opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, and its allies called a two-day general strike for Saturday and Sunday, urging all to refrain from voting on Sunday. The boycott would assure a victory for the ruling Awami League party.
Bangladesh has seen a series of incidents of deadly street violence over the elections in the past few months, which have left many dead. A number of civic groups in Bangladesh and international communities urged the government to cancel the voting and reschedule the elections.
Protesters don't trust Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her administration and want a neutral caretaker government to oversee the vote to make sure it is fair. But that caretaker system was scrapped a few years ago.
The election unrest underscores the persistent problems in the teeming South Asian nation, a country grappling with grinding poverty, political instability and development challenges.
A garment factory collapse near the capital, Dhaka, in April, for example, illustrated the need for that industry's reform. But the election boycott raises fears over how effective government can be in tackling such issues.
There are widespread fears that the elections and subsequent formation of a government by the Awami League would not bring an end to violence.
More than 140 people have been killed in the past two months, most of them caught up in attacks on public transportation by suspected opposition activists.
People are hoping that the elections will be devoid of violence. Ilyas Mollah, an Awami League candidate, said, "I hope there will be a peaceful election here."
Authorities said they had heightened security in Dhaka and elsewhere to ward off any kind of violence, but that did not prevent the fires at over 100 polling centers, mostly primary schools selected by the Election Commission as polling centers.
Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid said over 100 schools, colleges and madrassas marked as voting centers were burned in two days.
Speaking at a press briefing in Dhaka, he accused opposition activists of torching the schools and said, "These people are using petrol and gun power to torch the schools."
A joint commissioner of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, Monirul Islam, claimed that police had foiled attempts to torch over 1,000 polling centers in Dhaka.
The chief election commissioner, Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmed, expressed his concern over the attacks on polling centers, but said alternative arrangements were available where needed.
A senior BNP leader, Osman Farruk, told reporters Saturday that the government would have to bear the responsibility for any untoward incidents. He said the protest movement would continue until an election was held under a neutral caretaker government.
The commission set up over 18,000 polling centers across the country.
Less than half of 91 million voters are expected to cast votes, because candidates from more than half of the 300 parliamentary constituencies have already been elected without opposition.