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Bangladesh police detain 3 opposition officials

January 7, 2014

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Bangladeshi police said they conducted raids and arrested three leading opposition members on Tuesday, exacerbating political tensions after a violent general election.

The ruling party easily won Sunday’s election, which was marred by street fighting, low turnout and an opposition boycott.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said on Monday that her first priority is to contain the violence with an “iron hand.”

“The government’s first job is to save lives and properties of people, maintain peace and stability and prevent post-election violence at any cost,” Hasina told reporters.

Khandaker Muhbub Hossain, a well-known lawyer and adviser to opposition leader Khaleda Zia, was picked up outside the National Press Club in Dhaka where he had attended a roundtable discussion that was critical of the government, police spokesman Masudur Rahman said.

Nazimuddin Alam, a lawmaker from Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party, and another official, Fazlul Huq, were also detained in raids in Dhaka’s Baridhara area, Rahman said.

It was not immediately clear why they were detained or if any formal charges would be brought against them. A number of senior opposition leaders facing charges of creating anarchy and triggering violence are already in jail.

Political violence has convulsed the country in recent months as opposition activists staged attacks, strikes and transportation blockades to protest the government. Nearly 300 people have been killed since last February.

Hasina’s ruling Awami League party won 232 of the 300 elected seats, the Election Commission said, far more than the 151 required to form a government. Because of the opposition boycott, about half the seats were uncontested.

The opposition had demanded that Hasina’s government resign so a neutral administration could oversee the polls, saying Hasina might rig the election if she stayed in office. She denied that.

The political gridlock plunges Bangladesh deeper into turmoil and economic stagnation, and could lead to more violence in the deeply impoverished country of 160 million.

At least 18 people were killed during Sunday’s voting as police fired at protesters, and opposition activists torched more than 100 polling stations. Three more people were killed Monday in lingering pockets of unrest.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Monday that the elections “do not appear to credibly express the will of the Bangladeshi people.” She urged the government and opposition parties to hold talks on new elections as soon as possible, and called on all sides to desist from violence.

“We obviously condemn in the strongest terms the violence coming from all quarters, believe that violence has no place in a democratic process,” Harf said.

A statement from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s office said he “regrets that the parties did not reach the kind of agreements which could have produced a peaceful, all-inclusive election outcome.” The statement also called for “meaningful dialogue” among the parties.