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Deadly Violence Mars Elections In Bangladesh

Bangladeshi protesters burn election material Sunday at a polling station in the northern town of Bogra.
AFP/Getty Images
Bangladeshi protesters burn election material Sunday at a polling station in the northern town of Bogra.

Bangladesh's parliamentary election Sunday proved to be among the most violent vote in the country's short history. At least 18 people were killed, including an election officer who was beaten to death, and scores of polling stations firebombed, according to local media reports.

Tensions in Bangladesh that have been building over the past year reached a crescendo with Sunday's bloody, one-sided vote, which the ruling Awami League won in a walk-away. The main opposition, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, boycotted after the government refused to hand over power to a neutral administration in the run-up to the election.

A series of deeply controversial trials of senior figures from the Islamist group Jamaat-e-Islami, allied with the opposition, has added to the strain. Some of the accused have been convicted and sentenced to death for crimes stemming from Bangladesh's war for independence in 1971.

Jamaat members are accused of torching polling stations Sunday in the poverty-stricken country of 150 million people. The ruling party blamed the opposition for "derailing democracy."

The United States said Monday that it is "disappointed" by the parliamentary elections, which saw low voter turnout.

"With more than half of the seats uncontested and most of the remainder offering only token opposition, the results of the just-concluded elections do not appear to credibly express the will of the Bangladeshi people," according to a statement from the U.S. State Department.

Western powers, including the United States, declined to send observers to monitor the election though the State Department said it would be prepared to "re-engage" its observation efforts "at a later time in a more conducive environment."

Bangladesh's governing party, however, has defied pressure to open a dialogue with the opposition for a new vote, and the country looks set for fresh unrest.

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Julie McCarthy has spent most of career traveling the world for NPR. She's covered wars, prime ministers, presidents and paupers. But her favorite stories "are about the common man or woman doing uncommon things," she says.