Bangladesh to swear in new MPs after disputed polls

DHAKA (AFP) - Bangladesh's newly elected lawmakers were set to be sworn in on Thursday as the victorious ruling party moved to form a government days after a general election marred by deadly violence and an opposition boycott.

The planned swearing-in comes despite demands by the opposition to cancel the poll results and growing international pressure to hold fresh elections that can be seen as credible and inclusive.

The opposition on Tuesday called a non-stop blockade of roads, rail and waterways to topple the government and make way for new polls.

Parliament spokesman S.M. Manzoor said the swearing-in of the MPs would be held Thursday.

"The speaker of the outgoing parliament will swear in the newly elected lawmakers at 10am (0400 GMT)," he said.

The Awami League swept 232 of the total 300 seats in the unicameral parliament, returning it to power with an absolute majority.

The Awami League's leader, current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, was set to head the government again.

Top-circulated daily Prothom Alo said the new government would be in place by Sunday.

Hasina has vowed to bring stability after crippling opposition protests that have left around 180 dead since October and wiped more than US$4 billion (S$5 billion) from national output.

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.

Opposition leader Khaleda Zia, who has been held under de facto house arrest by security forces, has called the polls a "scandalous farce" and demanded they be declared null and void and that new elections be held under a neutral government headed by a caretaker leader.

The vote's credibility had been undermined even before last Sunday's polling day as 153 Awami League members or allies were declared elected unopposed.

The United States led international pressure for a swift re-run of the elections that would include all the major parties, brushing aside Hasina's insistence that a boycott by Zia's opposition did not undermine her legitimacy.

Washington called for a new vote that would "credibly express the will" 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." UN leader Ban Ki-moon urged the two parties "to resume meaningful dialogue" urgently to create "an inclusive political process".

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