DHAKA Tens of thousands of troops fanned out across Bangladesh on Thursday in a bid to stem political violence ahead of next month's elections, which the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has boycotted.
Violence has gripped the country as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her ruling Awami League press ahead with the January 5 vote.
BNP leader Begum Khaleda Zia has called on Bangladeshis to march to the capital on Sunday to protest against the elections, declaring "democracy is dead".
The opposition says it will not take part unless an interim government is installed and Hasina steps down. Hasina wants to do away with the practice of installing a caretaker government.
With the BNP's boycott, more than half the 300 parliament seats will go uncontested, making it unlikely the vote will do anything to restore stability in one of the world's poorest countries.
The army will be deployed until January 9, an Election Commission official said.
People are shot, beaten or burned to death daily in clashes between rival groups and police. More than 200 people have died in political violence this year, half of them since November 25, when the Election Commission announced the date for the vote.
Rolling general strikes staged by the opposition and blockades of roads, rail lines and waterways are also hurting the $22 billion garment industry, which supplies some of the world's top retailers, employs four million people and accounts for 80 percent of the country's export earnings.
Hasina and Khaleda have dominated politics in Bangladesh for more than two decades, and mutual suspicion bordering on hatred has blocked attempts at reconciliation.
(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Nick Macfie)