Bangladeshi opposition activists and police clashed as the country is holding a general election boycotted by the opposition.
At least three people were killed in unrest on Sunday. Scores have died in the run-up to the polls.
Dozens of polling stations have been torched and voting is suspended at more than 100. Polling is said to be thin.
The opposition is boycotting the vote with a two-day strike against what it called a “scandalous farce”.
PM Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League is assured of victory, with government candidates already declared victors by default in many seats.
She rejected demands for her to step down and a neutral government to oversee the poll, as in previous years.
“The polls opened across the country at 08:00,” said election commission spokesman SM Asaduzzaman. Voting will continue until 16:00.
In more than half of constituencies there is no voting at all, because the opposition boycott has led to government candidates being declared winners in advance.
Police opened fire as protesters tried to take over polling station in northern Rangpur district, killing three people.
In Nilphamari district, police also fired on about two dozen protesters. One person died.
Bangladesh votes amid violence and boycott
In the opposition stronghold of Bogra, the police chief told AFP: “We’ve seen thousands of protesters attack polling booths and our personnel at a number of locations with Molotov cocktails and petrol bombs.”
Media reported that more than 100 polling stations were torched overnight – adding to a similar number the night before.
One polling station in Dhaka’s Mirpur district recorded only 25 ballots out of 24,000 registered voters in the first two hours, AP reported.
Security is tight, with some 50,000 troops reportedly deployed around the country for the election.
Given the arson attacks and attempts to steal ballot papers and despite the heavy police presence, voters are wary about how secure they would be in coming to the polling stations.
The opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP) began a nationwide 48-hour strike on Saturday a day after its leader Khaleda Zia urged supporters to “completely boycott” what she called a “scandalous farce” of an election.
She accused the government of placing her under house arrest – something the authorities deny.
The strike is only the latest in a string of protests by the BNP and its allies – including the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party – that has seen a blockade of roads, railways and waterways and the closure of shops, schools and offices.
In the run-up to the polls, scores of opposition supporters died in police shootings and dozens of commuters were burnt to death by protesters throwing petrol bombs at strike-defying buses.
All elections since 1991 have been held under a neutral caretaker administration to ensure that voting is not fixed.
But the Awami League abolished the caretaker system in 2010, arguing that it was no longer necessary. It used its two-thirds majority in parliament to make the change.
The government has insisted that the BNP should take part in the polls within the existing constitutional framework. It says that the opposition should discuss any changes it wants after the vote.
Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia – who are bitter political enemies – have alternated from government to opposition for most of the past two decades.
Bangladesh’s main opposition party and its allies have decide to begin a three-day strike over the government’s failure to set up a caretaker cabinet in the run-up to the country’s general elections.
The Bangladesh Nationalist Party party (BNP), led by Khaleda Zia, is calling for the government to step aside ahead of the polls due in January.
The strike is going ahead despite pleas from PM Sheikh Hasina.
In comes after at least six people were killed during fresh unrest on Friday.
The violence flared as police and protesters clashed in some parts of the country, leaving more than 100 injured.
The strike began at 06:00, with the BNP and its Islamist ally the Jamaat-e-Islam hoping to bring the country to a standstill.
Three people were killed and dozens injured in Bangladesh Friday when security officials clashed with opposition supporters trying to defy a ban on protests, in Dhaka
They want to force the prime minister to allow a neutral caretaker administration to oversee the election process.
But Sheikh Hasina, who heads the Awami League, has rejected such a plan saying there is no scope for unelected people to supervise the vote.
Khaleda Zia announced that the national shutdown would be going ahead from Sunday, despite a rare phone call with Sheikh Hasina in which the the prime minister asked her to call off the strike.
It is thought to be the first time the bitter rivals have spoken directly for a decade.
The BNP and its allies are refusing to participate in elections under current constitutional provisions, which do not allows for a neutral, caretaker government, or require the incumbent prime minister to step down during the interim period.
The opposition fears the government will rig the polls if it remains in power.
Friday’s violence came as security officials opened fire on opposition supporters trying to defy a ban on protests.
Two people were killed in the coastal district of Cox’s Bazar, according to reports.
Local media said at least two people had died in the central district of Chandpur, while protesters also died in the northern town of Jaldhaka and the northern district of Nilphamari.
Demonstrators set vehicles on fire in the capital Dhaka.
A series of rulings against Jamaat have led to violent protests across Bangladesh, with more than 150 people killed in clashes with police since the beginning of this year.
Bangladesh’s Supreme Court has rejected the appeal of Islamist leader Abdul Kader Mullah against his jail term for war crimes and sentenced him to death.
In February Abdul Kader Mullah, of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, was convicted by a special tribunal of crimes during the 1971 war of independence with Pakistan.
The life sentence imposed at the time sparked angry street protests.
Abdul Kader Mullah’s supporters said the charges were politically motivated but his opponents said that sentence was too lenient.
Thousands staged protests around the country demanding the death penalty for Abdul Kader Mullah, who had been convicted of charges which included overseeing massacres during the bloody struggle for independence.
The protests prompted parliament to amend a law which allowed the state to appeal against any verdict reached by the war crimes tribunal.
This meant that alongside Abdul Kader Mullah’s appeal against his verdict the Supreme Court also heard an appeal from the government which wanted a tougher sentence handed down.
Prosecutor Ziad Al Malum told AFP news agency that the decision to increase the sentence was approved by four to one at the court.
Defense lawyer Tajul Islam told the agency he was “stunned” by the verdict.
Bangladesh’s Supreme Court has rejected the appeal of Abdul Kader Mullah against his jail term for war crimes and sentenced him to death
“This is the first time in South Asian judicial history that a trial court sentence has been enhanced by a Supreme Court,” he said.
Local media reports cite Abdul Kader Mullah’s lawyers saying they will petition for this harsher sentence to be reviewed, but the attorney general has said there can be no appeal against a Supreme Court verdict.
Correspondents say the only option left for Abdul Kader Mullah would be to seek a presidential pardon.
Abdul Kader Mullah’s conviction and subsequent sentences handed down to other Islamist leaders by the tribunal over the last few months have unleashed a wave of unrest, pitting supporters of Jamaat, who accuse the government of pursuing a political vendetta, against pro-government groups.
More than 100 people have been killed since January in the violence.
This is just the first of a series of appeals against convictions handed down by the tribunal. Several other high-profile Islamist leaders have been sentenced by it including 90-year-old Ghulam Azam, the former leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, who was jailed for 90 years in July.
Abdul Kader Mullah, 65, was the assistant secretary-general of Jamaat and the war crimes tribunal found him guilty of five out of six charges, including murder.
He was accused of being behind a series of killings including large-scale massacres in the Mirpur area of Dhaka, which earned him the nickname of “koshai” or butcher of Mirpur, and made him one of the more feared Jamaat leaders.
The special court was set up in 2010 by the current Bangladeshi government to deal with those accused of collaborating with Pakistani forces who attempted to stop East Pakistan (as Bangladesh was then) from becoming an independent country.
But human rights groups have said the tribunal falls short of international standards.
Bangladesh government figures estimate more than three million people were killed during the independence war. Other researchers put the figure at between 300,000 and 500,000.
Cyclone Mahasen has stricken Bangladesh’s southern coast, as people packed into evacuation shelters.
The storm hit Patuakhali district on Thursday with winds of up to 100 km/h (60 mph), and was heading for the ports of Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar.
Some two people have been killed, Bangladeshi officials say.
Around one million people have been ordered to evacuate low-lying areas in Bangladesh and Burma, and take shelter in cyclone centres.
Displaced Rohingya Muslims, living in camps on both sides of the border, may be particularly vulnerable.
But some of those on the Burmese side have resisted calls for them to evacuate camps in Rakhine state.
The UN has warned that 8.2 million people could be at risk from Mahasen in Bangladesh, Burma and north-east India.
At least 956,672 people have been evacuated from Bangladesh’s coastal areas to more than 3,200 cyclone shelters, the government said on Thursday.
The measures in place are a sign of the preparation the authorities have made for the storm.
Cyclone Mahasen has stricken Bangladesh’s southern coast
Warning messages went out to the population across all media before Mahasen hit.
Airports in Chittagong and the resort town of Cox’s Bazar have been shut until the danger subsides. Chittagong’s port, the busiest in Bangladesh, also remains closed.
The Bangladeshi authorities earlier raised the danger level to seven out of 10 for low-lying areas around Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar.
The cyclone covered more than 175km in nine hours before hitting Bangladesh, the country’s Meteorological Department said.
However, the service’s deputy director, Shamsuddun Ahmed, told AFP news agency the cyclone was not expected to cause serious damage as it was “not severe”.
The cyclone “did not gain strength in the last part of its journey as it hit the coast”, he said.
In Bangladesh, there have been reports of waist-deep water submerging low-lying areas and houses being damaged. Dozens of huts collapsed when the cyclone struck Patuakhali district, eye witnesses told local media.
There are also fears of a storm sea surge, and authorities have warned that heavy rainfall could cause landslides in hilly regions.
All schools, colleges and some hotels have been declared cyclone shelters. The centres are crowded and people are still rushing in.
In Burma, meanwhile, tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims living in camps in low-lying areas of Rakhine state are feared to be at risk.
They were displaced by ethnic violence last year and many are reluctant to move from the camps.
Hla Maung said he lost his mother and two young daughters during the clashes between Muslims and Buddhists.
“I lost everything. I don’t want to go anywhere. I’ll stay here. If I die, I want to die here,” he said.
Rakhine state said it had moved some 36,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) from camps, said Kirsten Mildren, from the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
But she said the evacuation was “not moving as fast as we’d like – it’s certainly a race against time. We’re finding it very difficult to convince [people] to move to higher ground or safer buildings”.
Burmese planning minister Tin Naing Thein said that in all more than 166,000 people had been relocated, but there was little evidence of a mass evacuation in reports from the affected area.
Correspondents say the Burmese evacuations are seen as a test of the government’s resolve to assist the Rohingya, amid allegations that state forces stood by or even participated in last year’s anti-Muslim violence.
Cyclone Mahasen has already taken a toll. Though the storm did not make landfall in Sri Lanka, the associated heavy rain caused floods and mudslides which killed at least seven people, according to the country’s Disaster Management Centre.
At least 50 Rohingya Muslims drowned on Tuesday when boats evacuating them from the path of the cyclone capsized off western Burma.
At least three people died and other 60 have been injured during clashes between police and Islamist protesters of Hefajat-e-Islam in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka.
Up to half a million protesters gathered in Dhaka, where rioters set fire to shops and vehicles as police fought to contain them.
Thousands of activists from Hefajat-e-Islam blocked highways, isolating Dhaka from other parts of the country.
They are calling for those who insult Islam to face the death penalty.
Up to half a million protesters gathered in Dhaka, where rioters set fire to shops and vehicles as police fought to contain them
They also want greater segregation of men and women, as well as the imposition of stricter Islamic education.
Hefajat-e-Islam’s opposition to a national development policy for women has angered women’s groups.
The group draws its strength from the country’s madrassahs, or religious schools.
But the government, which describes Bangladesh as a secular democracy, has rejected the group’s demand for a new law on blasphemy.
PM Sheikh Hasina said current legislation was adequate.
Chanting “Allahu Akbar!” (“God is greatest!”) and “One point! One demand! Atheists must be hanged”, the activists marched down at least six main roads, AFP news agency reported.
They headed for Motijheel, Dhaka’s main commercial district.
The area around the city centre’s largest mosque turned into a battleground as police reacted to stone-throwing rioters with tear gas, rubber bullets and truncheons.
Three people were killed with at least one dying of gunshot wounds.
Reports spoke of some 60 people being injured, including two local TV journalists.
A Hefajat-e-Islam activist, Hossain Soliman Abdullah, said the main aim of the protest was to press for the implementation of a 13-point demand inspired by the Koran.
Dhaka’s Daily Star newspaper reports that the group hired at least 3,000 vehicles, including buses, lorries and minibuses to bring demonstrators into the capital, while others travelled there by train.
On Friday, PM Sheikh Hasina said the government had already met many of the group’s demands.
“Many of these have already been implemented while some are in the process,” she was quoted as telling the Daily Star.
Sheikh Hasina said the government had already arrested four bloggers for making “derogatory comments” against the Prophet Muhammad and they would be prosecuted if found guilty.
Muslims make up nearly 90% of Bangladesh’s population with the rest mostly Hindus.
Bangladeshi police has arrested two owners of garment factories in the building that collapsed on the outskirts of the capital Dhaka this week killing at least 336 people.
Owners Mahbubur Rahman Tapas and Balzul Samad Adnan are suspected of forcing staff to work in the eight-storey building, ignoring warnings about cracks.
At least 336 people are known to have died after the Rana Plaza in the suburb of Savar collapsed on Wednesday.
On Saturday morning, at least 24 more people were rescued from the rubble.
Rescuers and volunteers, who worked through the night, cheered as they were brought to safety.
Earlier, rescue teams said they had located about 40 survivors on the collapsed third and fifth floors of the building.
Officials said they were working to extricate the remaining survivors and had passed oxygen cylinders and water to those still trapped.
Among those pulled out alive after three days in the rubble was Marina Begum, 22, now recovering in hospital.
Bangladeshi police has arrested two owners of garment factories in the building that collapsed on the outskirts of the capital Dhaka this week killing at least 336 people
“It felt like I was in hell,” she said.
“It was so hot, I could hardly breathe, there was no food or water. When I regained my senses I found myself in this hospital bed.”
More bodies of victims were also retrieved overnight and on Saturday morning.
Some 3,000 people are believed to have been working in the building at the time of the collapse and about 600 are still missing. Rana Plaza housed three garment factories, a bank and a number of shops.
Watching the operation are hundreds of relatives of those still missing, many clutching photographs of their loved ones.
Abul Basar wept as he awaited news of his wife who worked in one of the garment factories.
“My son says that his mother will come back some day, she must return,” he cried.
Mahbubur Rahman Tapas and Balzul Samad Adnan, the owners of the New Wave Bottoms and New Wave Style factories, were remanded in custody for 12 days by a court on Saturday. They were arrested earlier in the day after turning themselves in.
Deputy chief of Dhaka police Shyami Mukherjee said the two were accused of causing “death due to negligence”.
The owners reportedly told their employees to return to work on Wednesday, even though cracks were visible in the building a day earlier.
Three other clothing factories were reportedly operating in the building.
Police are also questioning two municipal engineers who are reported to have approved the safety of the building a day before it collapsed.
The owner of Rana Plaza, Mohammed Sohel Rana, is said to have gone into hiding.
“Those who’re involved, especially the owner who forced the workers to work there, will be punished,” Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told lawmakers on Friday.
“Wherever he is, he will be found and brought to justice,” the prime minister added.
There is widespread anger in Bangladesh over the disaster and fresh clashes between police and protesters erupted again on Saturday.
On Friday, police used tear-gas and rubber bullets to break up crowds that had blocked roads, set fire to buses and attacked textile factories.
Protesters are demanding that the government arrests all those responsible for the disaster and improves conditions for garment workers.
Police are guarding other garment factories in the area.
Bangladesh has one of the largest garment industries in the world, providing cheap clothing for major Western retailers that benefit from its widespread low-cost labor.
But the industry has been widely criticized for its low pay and limited rights given to workers and for the often dangerous working conditions in garment factories.
Primark, a clothes retailer with a large presence in Britain, confirmed that one of its suppliers was on the second floor of the Rana Plaza, and said it would work with other retailers to review standards.
Labor rights groups say the companies have a moral duty to ensure their suppliers are providing safe conditions for their employees.
UK fashion designer Katharine Hamnett has called on fashion brands to insist on safer working conditions for garment workers internationally.
“The price of clothes may be low but they are paid for with human lives,” she is reported to have said at the Vogue Festival in London on Saturday.
“We should demand credible, certifiable inspections on building structures and industry standards.”
She added: “This is a very dark day for the clothing industry.”
Meanwhile, the Bangladesh Communist Party and left-leaning Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal party have called a general strike on May 2 to demand punishment for those found responsible for the deaths.
An eight-storey building collapsed in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, killing at least 70 people and injuring other 200, government officials say.
Many more people are feared trapped after building collapse and frantic efforts are under way to rescue those beneath the debris.
The army is helping with the rescue operation on the outskirts of Dhaka.
Building collapses are common in Bangladesh where many multi-storey blocks are built in violation of rules.
The eight-storey building contained a clothing factory, a bank and several other shops. It collapsed during the morning rush hour.
Many people have gathered near the scene looking for friends and relatives.
It is not yet clear what caused the collapse but local media reports said a crack was detected in the block on Tuesday.
An eight-storey building collapsed in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, killing at least 70 people and injuring other 200
Rescue workers are using concrete cutters and cranes to dig through the rubble.
Local police chief Mohammad Asaduzzaman told the Reuters news agency that factory owners appeared to have ignored a warning not to allow their workers into the building after the crack was detected.
Police told local media that the rear of the building suddenly started to collapse on Wednesday morning and within a short time the whole structure – except the main pillar and parts of the front wall – had caved-in, triggering panic.
Only the ground floor of the Rana Plaza in Sava remained intact after the collapse, officials said, as army and fire service rescuers equipped with concrete cutters and cranes dug through rubble to pull out trapped people. Many onlookers also joined the effort using their bare hands.
Survivors have described their terror as the collapse began.
“I was in the cutting section of the garment factory and suddenly we heard a huge noise and the building collapsed within a few minutes,” a garment worker told private Somoy TV.
“I removed the rubble and came out with two other workers. But at least 30 other workers in my cutting section were still unaccounted for,” he said.
In November, a fire at a garment factory in a Dhaka suburb killed at least 110 people and triggered a public outcry about safety standards in the industry.
The last major building collapse was in 2010, when a four-storey building collapsed in Dhaka killing at least 25 people and injuring several others.
Bangladesh has one of the largest garment industries in the world, providing competitively priced clothes for major Western retailers which benefit from its widespread low-cost labor.
Following November’s fire, Western retail chains who buy from factories in Bangladesh urged factory owners to improve safety standards.
Moslemuddin Sarkar, a Bangladeshi man who went missing for 23 years, has been reunited with his family, who had given him up for dead.
Moslemuddin Sarkar, 52, arrived back in Dhaka on Tuesday, a day after being freed from a Pakistani jail with the help of the Red Cross.
His family lost contact after Moslemuddin Sarkar left for India in search of work in 1989. Years later, he ended up in Pakistan, where he was arrested.
Moslemuddin Sarkar says he was beaten and tortured in his subsequent 15 years in prison.
“I requested that embassy officials send me back to Bangladesh but no one listened to me,” he said.
“I suffered a lot in the prison and was crying for help. But no-one came to my rescue. Still I don’t understand why I was kept in jail for such a long time. At last, I am back with my family and I feel great.”
Moslemuddin Sarkar, a Bangladeshi man who went missing for 23 years, has been reunited with his family, who had given him up for dead
There were emotional scenes when Moslemuddin Sarkar was welcomed by relatives at Dhaka airport.
A younger brother, Julhas Uddin, told the AFP news agency that Moslemuddin Sarkar’s mother “passed out as he hugged her” after returning to his home village.
“It was a heartbreaking scene. He could not control his tears for hours,” Julhas Uddin said.
A dockworker at the port of Chittagong, Moslemuddin Sarkar says he illegally crossed the border to India in 1989 in search of better opportunities, without telling his family.
“We searched for him for years and finally gave up hope believing he might have drowned in the sea. But our mother always believed that her son would return home one day,” Julhas Uddin said.
In 1997, Moslemuddin Sarkar was caught trying to enter Pakistan without valid travel documents, spending the next 15 years in prisons in Lahore and Karachi. He said he was completely cut off from the world during that time.
“I went to Pakistan believing that I would get a better job there. But they caught me at the border,” he told AFP.
“I wrote dozens of letters to my village address, but did not have any clue that they were never posted. At one stage I lost all hope of returning home.”
His fate reportedly came to light when Pakistan sent a list of long-serving Bangladeshi prisoners to consular officials, who informed Moslemuddin Sarkar’s family. They in turn appealed to the International Committee of the Red Cross, who facilitated his release.
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