Ahad, 5 Januari 2014

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The Star Online: Metro: South & East

Polling stations firebombed in deadly Bangladesh vote

Posted: 05 Jan 2014 02:08 AM PST

Police said at least 13 people had been killed and more than 200 polling stations were set on fire or trashed by mobs in a bid by the opposition to wreck the one-sided contest.

Two of those killed were beaten to death while guarding polling stations in northern districts which bore the brunt of the violence.

"We've seen thousands of protestors attack polling booths and our personnel at a number of locations with Molotov cocktails and petrol bombs," Syed Abu Sayem, police chief of the northern Bogra district, told AFP.

"The situation is extremely volatile," he added after describing how thousands of ballot papers had been ceremoniously set on fire.

Most of the other victims were opposition activists who were shot by police, while a driver died of his injuries from a Molotov cocktail attack on his truck.

"We were forced to open fire after thousands of them attacked us with guns and small bombs," said Mokbul Hossain, police chief in the northern Parbatipur town.

"It was a coordinated attack. They managed to seize some ballot papers and they tried to steal our weapons."

In the capital, police confirmed at least two petrol bomb attacks on Dhaka polling stations.

Tens of thousands of troops were deployed across the country after around 150 people had been killed in the build-up, but they failed to stem the bloodshed.

The ruling Awami League has accused the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of orchestrating the violence and has kept its leader under de facto house arrest.

With the opposition trying to enforce a general strike as part of a strategy to wreck the polls, officials acknowledged the turnout was significantly lower than usual.

"The turnout was low, partly due to the boycott by many parties," said election commission chief Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad, without immediately giving a figure.

Polls closed at 4:00 pm (1000 GMT) after eight hours of voting and final results are expected in the early hours of Monday morning.

AFP correspondents said there were no queues to vote, while local television reported that only a single person voted in the first three hours at one station.

The outcome of the contest is not in doubt as voting is taking place in only 147 of the 300 parliamentary constituencies. Awami League candidates or allies have a clear run in the remaining 153.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government says it had to hold the vote after parliament's five-year term expired.
"Yes, the festive mood is missing but this election is essential to ensure constitutional continuity," deputy law minister Quamrul Islam told AFP.

'Laughable vote'

The BNP, whose leader Khaleda Zia has been confined to her home for a week, said the vote was a joke.

"The country has rejected these farcical elections which were meaningless, laughable and universally unacceptable," deputy leader Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said.

Those who did vote showed little enthusiasm.

"I don't really want to vote as I don't think it's a proper election with only the ruling party candidates participating," Anwar Hossain said outside a polling station in Dhaka's Azimpur neighbourhood.

"But I am scared about what might happen if I don't as the candidates might think I am anti-Awami League."

Shopkeeper Niyamat Ullah said it was a pointless exercise.

"I am not going to vote," he told AFP. "What kind of election is it when there's only a handful of voters at the polling centre and the two candidates are from the same party?"

Analysts warn the election will likely stoke violence after the bloodiest year of unrest since Bangladesh broke free from Pakistan in 1971.

The former East Pakistan is the world's eighth most populous nation but also one of the poorest in Asia, and more turmoil will undermine efforts to improve the lot of its population of 154 million - a third of whom live below the poverty line.

Zia says any polls overseen by her arch enemy Hasina will not be fair, calling instead for them to be organised by a neutral caretaker government.

A local rights group says more than 500 people have been killed since January 2013, including victims of clashes that erupted after the conviction of Islamists for crimes dating back to the 1971 war.

The main Islamist party was banned by judges from taking part in the election, and its leaders are either in detention or in hiding.

Alarmed by the violence, the United States, European Union and Commonwealth all declined to send observers.
Bangladesh has been plagued by instability since independence, with nearly 20 coups since 1975.

Sailor survives shark, four others missing from Taiwan boat

Posted: 05 Jan 2014 02:05 AM PST

TAIPEI (AFP) - An Indonesian sailor has been rescued despite suffering a shark attack but four other crewmen are missing after their Taiwanese fishing boat apparently caught fire in the East China Sea, officials said Sunday.

Taiwan's coastguard said they were informed by their Japanese counterparts Saturday noon that the 26-tonne "Cheng Tsai Li" was drifting 35 nautical miles (65 km) northeast of Miyako-jima, an island in Japan's Okinawa prefecture.

An Indonesian sailor aboard the fishing vessel was rescued by another Taiwanese fishing boat, the Taiwan coastguard said.

"He was injured, suffering from shark bites," coastguard spokesman Hsieh Ching-chin told AFP. No details of the attack or the man's injuries were available.

Two coastguard vessels from Taiwan and two from Japan were mobilised to search for the four missing crewmen - the Taiwanese skipper, a Taiwanese sailor and two Indonesian sailors.

"As of now, we have had no luck. We're racing against time as the weather is cold," Hsieh said.

The cause of the accident was not immediately clear but it seemed that the Cheng Tsai Li had been hit by a fire, he said.

China probes almost 37,000 officials for graft

Posted: 05 Jan 2014 02:07 AM PST

BEIJING (AFP) - China investigated almost 37,000 officials suspected of corruption in more than 27,000 cases between January and November, state media said Sunday.

Out of the 27,236 cases, 12,824 resulted in "losses for the people" involving a total of 5.51 billion yuan ($0.9 billion), Xinhua news agency said without elaborating.

It cited a statement from the Supreme People's Procuratorate, China's top prosecuting body, which could not be reached for comment Sunday.

China's top prosecutor Cao Jianming told the National People's Congress parliament in October that 200,000 people had been probed for embezzlement or bribery between January 2008 and last August.

Communist Party chief Xi Jinping has taken a hard line against graft since coming to power a little over one year ago, warning that corruption could destroy the party.

He has threatened to stamp down on high-ranking officials, or "tigers", along with low-level "flies" to maintain the purity of the party.

At the same time he has mounted an austerity drive, with a range of measures including limits on banquets and bans on gift-giving.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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