Bangladesh deploys army ahead of January elections

Bangladesh troops patrol streets of Dhaka. Photo: 24 December 2013 Troops are being deployed in at least 59 of Bangladesh's 64 districts, officials say

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Tens of thousands of troops are being deployed across Bangladesh to try to prevent potential political violence ahead of next month's elections.

This comes as main opposition leader Khaleda Zia has urged her supporters to stage nationwide protests.

She says she will boycott the 5 January general elections unless Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina quits and a neutral caretaker government is installed.

Ms Hasina's government has rejected the opposition's demand.

Caretaker governments previously oversaw elections, but Ms Hasina scrapped the arrangement in 2011.

Bitter rivals
Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina Khaleda Zia (left) and Sheikh Hasina (right) have dominated Bangladeshi politics for more than two decades

Troops are being deployed in at least 59 of Bangladesh's 64 districts, election commission spokesman SM Asaduzzaman told the Agence France-Presse news agency.

"They'll be used as a striking force if there is any violence and they will patrol important areas, streets and highways," he added.

A smaller number of soldiers has already been on the streets for several days.

Ms Zia, who leads the opposition Bangladeshi Nationalist Party (BNP), earlier called for a mass march on the capital Dhaka.

She said she hoped the mass rally would force the government to resign.

Last month, Ms Hasina, who heads the Awami League, put together a multi-party coalition and offered Ms Zia any post she wanted. Ms Zia refused the offer.

The BNP fears the Awami League will rig the elections if it remains in power instead of the caretaker government.

The two women are old and bitter political rivals who have governed Bangladesh in turn for many years.

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