Deadlocked Bangladesh swears in contested Parliament

Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina speaking during a media conference in Dhaka January 6, 2014. Bangladesh's ruling Awami League won a violence-plagued parliamentary election whose outcome was never in doubt after a boycott by the main opposit
Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina speaking during a media conference in Dhaka January 6, 2014. Bangladesh's ruling Awami League won a violence-plagued parliamentary election whose outcome was never in doubt after a boycott by the main opposition party. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS 

DHAKA (AFP) - Bangladesh's newly elected lawmakers took the parliamentary oath on Thursday after an election condemned as a farce by critics, with the country's battling political leaders still locked in a deadly confrontation.

Led by Ms Sheikh Hasina, the current Prime Minister, MPs from the ruling Awami League and lawmakers from her allies were sworn in, Parliament spokesman Joynal Abedin told AFP.

"The speaker of the outgoing parliament administered the swearing-in. Only a few MPs could not take the oath in time. They'll be sworn in later today," Mr Abedin said.

The Awami League won 232 of 300 seats in Sunday's parliamentary polls, which were boycotted by the opposition and hit by the deadliest election violence in the country's history.

Analysts say the new Parliament could be short-lived as Ms Hasina faces a worsening political crisis and a mounting calls for new polls from the opposition, which has vowed to overthrow her.

The opposition, led by two-time former prime minister Khaleda Zia, who is under de facto house arrest, called for a non-stop blockade of roads, rail and waterways from Wednesday.

The blockade was only partially imposed in the capital, with many activists behind bars after a crackdown by security forces in the weeks running up to Sunday's election.

Ms Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party called the weekend vote a farce and the United States said it lacked credibility.

A total of 153 Awami League members or allies were elected unopposed as a result of an opposition boycott, imposed over Ms Hasina's decision to change the electoral process.

Daughter of the country's independence hero Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Ms Hasina will be elected the leader of the Parliament later on Thursday after the swearing-in, her spokesman Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury told AFP.

"She will then form a new government, which is expected to take oath by Sunday," he added.

Ms Hasina has vowed to bring stability after crippling opposition protests that have left around 180 dead since October.

At least 26 people were killed during the election, making it the bloodiest vote in Bangladesh's 43-year history, while hundreds of opposition supporters torched or trashed polling stations.

After two weeks confined to her home, security was relaxed outside Ms Zia's house on Wednesday night, but it was unclear whether she would be allowed to leave.

Ms Zia has demanded the polls be declared null and void and that new elections be held under a neutral government headed by a caretaker leader.

Washington has led international pressure for a swift rerun of the elections that would include all the major parties, brushing aside Ms Hasina's insistence her victory was legitimate.

The United States called for a vote that would "credibly express the will" of the people and asked the parties "to engage in immediate dialogue to find a way to hold as soon as possible elections that are free, fair, peaceful, and credible".

United Nations leader Ban Ki Moon urged the two parties "to resume meaningful dialogue" urgently to create "an inclusive political process".