DHAKA (AFP) - Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ruled out on Thursday any last-minute cancellation of weekend elections that have been boycotted by the opposition, accusing her rivals of holding the country hostage.
In a final address to the nation ahead of Sunday's violence-plagued polls, Ms Hasina accused opposition leader Khaleda Zia of shunning dialogue and rejecting an offer to share power in an interim administration.
"We have tried our best to bring the BNP (Bangladesh Nationalist Party) into the elections," Ms Hasina, who is the leader of the ruling Awami League, said in a 40-minute televised address.
"She (Zia) spurned my offer for dialogue and instead chose the path of confrontation.
"The January 5 polls will be held in accordance with the constitution," she added.
More than 140 people have been killed in violence in the last two months since Ms Hasina announced she would not bow to calls to stand aside and let a caretaker government organise the elections.
Ms Zia's BNP and 20 other opposition parties have refused to take part in the elections over fears that the result would be rigged, dimissing the contest as a "farce".
The BNP has organised a series of general strikes and blockades designed to paralyse the country and hence scupper the contest.
"She held the people to hostage in the name of strikes and blockades," Ms Hasina said of Ms Zia, blaming her supporters for the deaths of civilians and security forces.
Diplomatic sources say Ms Hasina has been under new pressure this week to hold off on the election, with envoys privately warning her top aides that the polls would only further inflame tensions.
The United States and the European Union have cold-shouldered the contest, further undermining its credibility by refusing to send observers.
But Ms Hasina, who was elected in 2009 after beating two-time former premier Zia, insisted the polls would be free and fair.
"The polls are being held under an independent election commission," said the 66-year-old premier, who is the daughter of Bangladesh's slain founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.