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Bangladesh votes amid violence, opposition boycott

From Farid Ahmed, For CNN
updated 4:27 PM EST, Sun January 5, 2014
Bangladeshi protestors burn election material at a polling station in the northern town of Bogra on Sunday.
Bangladeshi protestors burn election material at a polling station in the northern town of Bogra on Sunday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Election-related violence nationwide leaves at least 16 dead
  • NEW: The country's largest opposition party protests against "farcical polls"
  • NEW: A leader of the ruling Awami League says vote was "victory of democracy"

Dhaka, Bangladesh (CNN) -- Polls closed in Bangladesh's parliamentary elections Sunday amid a boycott by major opposition parties and violence that left at least 16 people dead, officials said.

Officials announced some results Sunday night. But disputes over the vote appeared to be far from over, with the country's largest opposition party calling for a fresh round of protests starting Monday against what they called "farcical polls."

Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad, Bangladesh's chief election commissioner, said cold weather and the opposition boycott fueled a low turnout nationwide.

But a senior leader of the ruling Awami League said people "spontaneously cast votes and rejected (the) opposition's violent activities."

"It's a victory of democracy," Tofail Ahmed told reporters.

Police officials reported violence in many parts of the country as opposition activists hoping to foil elections clashed with officers.

Police in some areas told CNN they fired tear gas and shots at protesters who tried to attack polling stations.

The capital of Dhaka was largely peaceful, but voter turnout was low.

"Presence of voters today is lower than any other time of voting," said Gazi Aslim Uddin, a presiding officer at a voting station in old Dhaka.

Opposition 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.

With mistrust mounting, Bangladesh has seen a series of incidents of deadly street violence over the elections in recent months. Local civic groups and international communities urged the government to cancel the voting and reschedule the elections.

The largest opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, and its allies boycotted Sunday's elections and enforced a general strike to thwart voting.

Attackers torched about 150 polling centers and election materials nationwide.

The boycott was expected to ensure a victory for the ruling Awami League party.

Violence stopped voting at some centers, the country's chief election commissioner said, and officials plan to hold new polls at those locations on January 24.

Senior BNP leader Osman Farruk demanded cancellation of the elections results and called for fresh elections under a neutral caretaker government.

The election unrest underscores persistent problems in the South Asian nation, a country grappling with grinding poverty, political instability and development challenges.

Bangladesh protesters torch schools marked as voting centers

Journalist Tania Rashid contributed to this report.

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