Polls have opened across Bangladesh as sometimes deadly violence continues to plague the country. The major opposition parties are boycotting the elections and have called on voters to stay home.
Police have reportedly shot dead at least three opposition activists who were trying to disrupt voting in the northern Rangpur district and elsewhere in the north.
Hours before the voting began, an election official was killed when protesters attacked a polling station in the town of Thakurgaon, 450 kilometers (280 miles) north of the capital, Dhaka.
More than 200 polling stations have been attacked since late Saturday into early Sunday, according to police.
Polling officials say fear of violence and the absence of any strong opposition has kept people away, and the unrest is likely to push down turnout among the country’s 92 million registered voters.
Polling stations were scheduled to close at 4:00 p.m.
Incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League were expected to coast to an easy re-election victory in a vote devoid of opposition groups.
“This is a dead election in which most of the ruling party contenders are being elected unopposed. The government will be responsible for conducting such a farcical election,” Moeen Khan of the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) told news agency DPA.
Ahead of the polls on Sunday, the BNP had called a 48-hour general strike in protest at the government’s refusal to postpone elections and install a neutral caretaker administration to oversee them.
The European Union, the United States and the British Commonwealth have refused to send election observers.
Violence has escalated in recent weeks, with much of Dhaka cut off from the rest of the country as opposition activists blockaded roads, train lines and waterways. Vehicles of motorists who defied the frequent strikes have also been torched.
Around 50,000 troops have been deployed across the country to try and contain the unrest. Police say 1,200 opposition activists have been detained, but opposition parties say the number of arrests is much higher.
So far, some 150 people are thought to have been killed since the election date was set in October.
tj/bk (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa, epd)