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At least 13 killed in Bangladesh with no end to election violence in sight

DHAKA, Bangladesh -- Police in Bangladesh fired at protesters and opposition activists torched more than 100 polling stations Sunday during a national election boycotted by the opposition and described as flawed by the international community. At least 13 people were killed in election-related violence.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's refusal to heed opposition demands to step down and appoint a neutral caretaker to oversee the election led to the boycott, undermining the legitimacy of the vote. Opposition activists have staged attacks, strikes and transportation blockades in unrest that has left at least 288 people dead since last year.

“We never expected such an election,” said Aminul Islam, a resident of the capital, Dhaka, who refused to vote. “For such a situation, both the government and opposition are responsible. They don't want to establish democracy.”

Voter turnout appeared low, though official numbers were not immediately known.

In a statement, opposition spokesman Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir praised Bangladeshis for “rejecting this meaningless” election.

The opposition announced a 48-hour general strike starting Monday morning to demand that results from the election, which is expected to return Hasina to power, be voided.

H.T. Imam, co-chairman of the ruling Awami League's Election Steering Committee, accused the opposition of using violence to create panic among people. “Still, I congratulate people who ignored such threats and came to polling stations,” he told reporters.

Police opened fire to stop protesters from seizing a polling center in the country's northern Rangpur district, killing two people, authorities said. In a similar incident in neighboring Nilphamari district, police fired into about two-dozen protesters, killing two people.

Police gave no further details, but Dhaka's Daily Star newspaper said the four men who were killed belonged to the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami party.

Another nine people were killed in election-related violence elsewhere, including a polling official who was stabbed to death by suspected opposition activists, police said.

Local media reported that attackers torched at least 127 school buildings across Bangladesh in overnight attacks. The buildings were to be used as polling stations.

By midmorning Sunday, voting was suspended at least 149 polling centers because of attacks, the Election Commission said.

The opposition boycott led to 153 of Parliament's 300 elected seats going uncontested.

The European Union, the United States and the British Commonwealth did not send observers for what they considered a flawed election. U.S. State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said that Washington was disappointed that the major political parties had not reached a consensus on a way to hold free, fair and credible elections.

Local television stations showed mostly empty polling stations in the morning, though turnout seemed to improve in the afternoon.

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Bangladeshi villagers cheer after a voting station was attacked by protesters in the northern town of Bogra, Bangladesh on Sunday, Jan. 5. (AFP)

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