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12,000 security forces deployed in Dhaka as transport blockade begins

12,000 security forces deployed in Dhaka as transport blockade begins

About 12,000 security forces were deployed in the Bangladeshi capital Sunday at the start of a three-day transport blockade called by a major political alliance to force electoral reform.
Schools and businesses were closed in Dhaka as the alliance staged street protests demanding voting reforms and a postponement of the Jan. 22 election.
About 2,000 protesters demonstrated near the downtown headquarters of former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's Awami League party, which spearheads the 19-party alliance.
Earlier demonstrations have sometimes turned violent, leaving at least 34 people dead since October. Hasina's supporters said they planned to block roads and railways to isolate the capital from the rest of the country.
Transportation ground to a halt nationwide during the early hours of the blockade Sunday, but no violence was reported, said the private ATN Bangla TV station.
Troops were patrolling outside Bangladesh Television in Dhaka's Rampura area, apparently guarding the state-run station.
Interim President Iajuddin Ahmed said could not change the election date.
"I'm committed to handing over power to an elected government through holding elections in time. I seek cooperation from all in protecting the Constitution," Ahmed said in a statement late Saturday.
Under the Constitution, the interim government has only 90 days to hold the elections. Ahmed took over as interim leader on Oct. 29 and his 90-day term expires on Jan. 25.
The alliance also announced it would extend its two-day blockade by a day to end Tuesday.
Hasina's alliance says it will boycott the poll and has threatened to disrupt it, claiming the interim government in charge of overseeing the election favors its opponents _ a four-party coalition led by Hasina's longtime political rival former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.
It wants the ballot delayed until electoral reforms, including the revision of a voter list, are complete. It also wants Ahmed to step aside as the country's interim leader.
The Election Commission has said the polls will go ahead as scheduled, regardless of the boycott.
Bangladesh has a history of political turmoil. Two presidents have been slain in military coups, and Hasina and Zia have traded premierships since the restoration of democracy in 1991.
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Associated Press writer Parveen Ahmed contributed to this report.