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Bangladeshi Polling Stations Firebombed


Thousands of protesters have firebombed polling stations and stolen ballot papers as election violence flares across Bangladesh.

Police say at least 18 people have been killed and more than 200 polling stations set on fire or damaged by supporters of opposition parties who are boycotting the January 5 vote, which they say is rigged.

The opposition has called a 48-hour general strike beginning January 6 to demand that the election results be voided.

"We will not allow voting for as long as democracy is not restored," a protester in the city of Bogra said, adding that he hoped the actions would bring the election to a halt. "This is a democratic country. All of us who support democracy are protesting against this election."

Authorities suspended polling in at least 183 out of more than 18,000 centers after activists allegedly attacked them and took ballot boxes to try to prevent the election from taking place.

The opposition parties are boycotting the election after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina dismissed the opposition's demands for her to stand aside and for a neutral caretaker administration to oversee the poll, as in previous elections.

The boycott means Hasina’s Awami League is almost certain to remain in power as more than half of the parliamentary seats will be uncontested.

Moeen Khan of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party on election day called the vote "farcical" and a "dead election."

Some voters said they were participating but that they hoped it would be the last election the country attempted.

"We want this election to be the end of it," ne woman who gave her name only as Shilpi told Reuters in the capital, Dhaka. "This election was hit by violence and we don't want another election."

Tens of thousands of troops have been deployed across the country after around 150 people died in the run-up to election day, but the troops have failed to stem the bloodshed.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AP