Dhaka (AFP) – Bangladesh’s election campaign turned violent Tuesday with scores injured at political rallies across the country, as police fired pellet guns into crowds and stick-wielding mobs attacked rival candidates.
Police told AFP clashes broke out in at least seven major towns on just the second day of campaigning, injuring nearly 100 people who turned out to cheer the two major parties contesting the December 30 poll.
The unrest follows a crackdown on the Bangladesh Nationalist Party in recent weeks, with hundreds of supporters from the main opposition movement thrown behind bars before campaigning had even begun.
In Thakurgaon, a northern district, a motorcade for the BNP’s secretary general Fakhrul Islam Alamgir was set upon by a huge crowd swinging batons.
Local police chief Mohammad Moniruzzaman said the windows of several cars were smashed, but Alamgir escaped unscathed. There were reports of several injuries.
The opposition blamed thugs aligned to the ruling Awami League, the party chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who is running for a record fourth term in office.
In Kabirhat, a southern town, at least 22 people were hurt as rivals from the Awami League and BNP clashed with sticks and hurled rocks during a campaign stop, police said.
In the central town of Faridganj, police said they fired rubber bullets at an opposition parade after rocks were hurled at them.
“We were compelled to retaliate in self defence,” said local police chief Harunur Rashid. At least 26 civilians and four policemen were injured, he added.
At least 25 others were injured in separate clashes elsewhere in the country.
There was also infighting, with rival Awami League factions firing pellet guns at each other in southern Fatikchhari town, injuring seven, local police chief Babul Akhter told AFP.
BNP spokesman Rizvi Ahmed said more than 200 of its supporters were injured in what it called “administration-backed” attacks.
“They are creating the ground for an uneven poll through this violence,” he told AFP.
Hasina walked her third term as prime minister in 2014 after the BNP and its allies boycotted what it called a rigged poll. That election was condemned by international observers.
Around 100 million voters have registered for this year’s ballot, even though the opposition is yet to name a candidate to run against Hasina.
Veteran opposition leader and two-time prime minister Khaleda Zia has been barred from contesting the election against her long-time rival Hasina.
She is behind bars, serving a ten-year jail sentence on graft charges her supporters say are unfounded.