Bangladesh to swear in PM and Cabinet after deadly poll

DHAKA (AFP) - Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her new Cabinet were set to be sworn in on Sunday after a deadly election boycotted by the opposition amid a worsening political crisis.

Ms Hasina and her team will officially form a government during a ceremony performed by the country's president in the capital Dhaka, his press secretary told AFP, a week after the controversial polls.

"President Abdul Hamid will administer the swearing-in to the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her cabinet members at 3.30pm (5.30pm Singapore time)," Ihsanul Karim said.

Ms Hasina has insisted her walkover win in the parliamentary polls was legitimate, despite the vote being boycotted by the opposition and its allies in the deadliest election violence in the country's history.

Ms Hasina's Awami League party won nearly 80 percent of the seats, which should allow her to rule for another five years.

But analysts say the new government could be short-lived since Hasina faces a deepening political crisis and mounting calls for new polls from the international community and the opposition.

The opposition, led by two-times former prime minister Khaleda Zia, has since Wednesday called for a blockade of roads, rail and waterways to try to topple the government.

Ms Zia, who has been under de facto house arrest, was allowed to leave her home in Dhaka late Saturday for the first time in more than two weeks.

She was permitted to attend a meeting at her office, but it is unclear if her house arrest has been completely lifted.

Sunday's ceremony comes after Bangladesh's newly elected lawmakers were sworn in on Thursday.

There was no confirmation on the size of the new cabinet, but leading newspaper Prothom Alo put the number of ministers at up to 50.

Cabinet Secretary Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan said all preparations for the swearing-in have been completed.

Ms Hasina, who first came to power in 1996 and then thrashed Ms Zia in a 2008 comeback, has vowed to take a hardline stand to bring stability.

Crippling opposition protests have left around 180 dead since October and cost an estimated US$4 billion (S$5 billion) in lost production.

"We will take a hardline stand as it is required to ensure the safety of public and properties," Ms Hasina said on Friday during a rally in Dhaka.

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

Ms Zia has called the polls a "scandalous farce" and demanded new elections be held under a neutral government headed by a caretaker leader, fearing poll rigging.

The United States has led international pressure for a swift re-run of the January 5 elections to include all of the major parties, brushing aside Hasina's insistence that her victory was legitimate.

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