Amid a deepening conflict between Bangladesh's two main political parties, the scene here in the capital as polls opened for the general elections on Sunday was ominous, with black-clad special forces units and soldiers in combat gear patrolling nearly empty boulevards.
Though final results had not yet been released by early Monday, official counts from Dhaka suggested that turnout here averaged around 22 percent — a steep decline from the more than the 87 percent who voted in the last general election.
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At least 19 people were reported dead in political violence, and 440 polling stations were closed early because of security concerns. Bangladeshi television stations broadcast images of rural polling stations charred by arson attacks, and of bodies wrapped in red blankets.
Sunday was the culmination of months of confrontation between the governing Awami League and the main opposition force, the Bangladesh National Party. The BNP refused to participate in the elections after the government rejected its demand to put in place an impartial caretaker government to oversee the voting, which had been customary in recent years and was seen as a protection against government manipulation.