Bangladesh ruling coalition declared winner of disputed vote

Some 104 million people in the Muslim-majority country were eligible to vote, including many young, first-time voters. (AP)
Updated 31 December 2018
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Bangladesh ruling coalition declared winner of disputed vote

  • The coalition led by Hasina’s Awami League party won 288 out of 300 seats — 96 percent — in Sunday’s poll
  • The opposition claims Sheikh Hasina’s leadership has become increasingly authoritarian

DHAKA, Bangladesh: Bangladesh’s ruling alliance won virtually every parliamentary seat in the country’s general election, according to official results released early Monday, giving Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina a third straight term despite allegations of intimidation and the opposition disputing the outcome.
The coalition led by Hasina’s Awami League party won 288 out of 300 seats — 96 percent — in Sunday’s polls, Election Commission Secretary Helal Uddin Ahmed said. The opposition alliance led by prominent lawyer Kamal Hossain won only seven seats.
The opposition rejected the outcome, with Hossain calling the election “farcical” and demanding a new election be held under the authority of a “nonpartisan government.”
The opposition claims Hasina’s leadership has become increasingly authoritarian. More than a dozen people were killed in election-related violence on Sunday and the campaign preceding the vote had been dogged by allegations of arrests and jailing of thousands of Hasina’s opponents.
Hossain said late Sunday that about 100 candidates from the alliance had withdrawn from their races during the day. He said the alliance would hold a meeting Monday to decide its next course.
“We call upon the election commission to declare this election void and demand a fresh election under a nonpartisan government,” Hossain told reporters at a nationally broadcast news conference.
Calls to several Hasina aides seeking comment were not immediately returned.
Bangladesh’s leading newspapers made banner headlines, some in red, while television stations aired round-the-clock analysis. A headline in the country’s leading English-language newspaper, the Daily Star, read, “Hat-trick for Hasina, BNP found missing in polling; atmosphere festive, tuned only to ruling party,” referring to the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
In an editorial, the newspaper said “this was a one-sided election.”
“The blatant and starkest manifestation of an uneven state of affairs was the absence of polling agents of the opposition ... in most, if not almost all, of the polling centers in the country,” it said.
Hasina’s main rival for decades has been former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, the leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, who a court deemed ineligible to run for office because she is in prison for corruption.
In Zia’s absence, opposition parties formed a coalition led by Hossain, an 82-year-old Oxford-educated lawyer and former member of Hasina’s Awami League party.
The secretary general of Zia’s party, Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, won a seat in a twist victory. Alamgir is a fierce critic of Hasina and he spearheaded the formation of the opposition alliance with Hossain at the helm. Alamgir had said Sunday he was rejecting any outcome, but it was unknown after his win was declared what he would do now.
In the run-up to the election, activists from both the ruling party and the opposition complained of attacks on supporters and candidates.
The Daily Star said 16 people were killed in 13 districts in election-related violence on Sunday.
The Associated Press received more than 50 calls from people across the country who identified themselves as opposition supporters complaining of intimidation and threats, and being forced to vote in front of ruling party men inside polling booths.
While rights groups have sounded the alarms about the erosion of Bangladesh’s democracy, Hasina has promoted a different narrative, highlighting an ambitious economic agenda that has propelled Bangladesh past larger neighbors Pakistan and India by some development measures.
Voters “will give us another opportunity to serve them so that we can maintain our upward trend of development, and take Bangladesh forward as a developing country,” Hasina said after casting her ballot along with her daughter and sister in Dhaka.
Some 104 million people in the Muslim-majority country were eligible to vote, including many young, first-time voters, in Bangladesh’s 11th general election since independence from Pakistan.
Both sides were hoping to avoid a repeat of 2014, when Zia and the BNP boycotted and voter turnout was only 22 percent. More than half of the 300 parliamentary seats were uncontested. The Awami League’s landslide victory was met with violence that left at least 22 people dead.
About 600,000 security officials, including army and paramilitary forces, were deployed to contain violence. The telecommunications regulator shut down mobile Internet services nationwide to prevent the organizing of protests.


China factory blast death toll jumps to 64, man rescued after 40 hours

An aerial view shows a chemical plant after an explosion in Yancheng in China's eastern Jiangsu province early on March 22, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 9 min 4 sec ago
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China factory blast death toll jumps to 64, man rescued after 40 hours

  • The blast occurred on Thursday at the Chenjiagang Industrial Park in the city of Yancheng, in Jiangsu province
  • The company produces more than 30 organic chemical compounds, some of which are highly flammable

BEIJING: The death toll in a chemical plant explosion in China rose to 64 Saturday but rescuers found a survivor among more than two dozen still missing in the debris of one of the country’s worst industrial accidents in recent years.

Thursday’s explosion in the eastern city of Yancheng injured hundreds and flattened an industrial park.

The local fire brigade pulled a man in his 40s from the rubble of the destroyed chemical plant around dawn on Saturday, according to a statement on the city government’s official Weibo account.

He was taken to hospital for treatment, the statement said, without giving further detail of his status or injuries.

Rescuers are looking for 28 people who are still missing, Yancheng mayor Cao Lubao said in the statement.

“The identities of the dead and the missing are being confirmed through interviews with family members, home visits and DNA tests,” Cao said.

More than 600 people have received medical treatment following the blast, according to the city government.

Among them, 21 are critically injured and 73 are seriously injured, the statement said.

The explosion toppled several buildings in the industrial park and caused a huge fire that raged through the night, while rescuers scrambled to find survivors in the plant’s wreckage.

Hundreds of rescuers were dispatched to the scene, local authorities said, and some 4,000 people have been evacuated from the blast site.

The force of the explosion — which was so powerful that it apparently triggered a small earthquake — blew out windows and dented metal garage doors of buildings as far as four kilometers from the site.

Nearby residents — many of them elderly — were seen sweeping up glass, and in some cases appeared to have abandoned their homes entirely.

The city government said some 89 houses were damaged beyond repair and families were resettled after demolishing those structures.

The government said it was also repairing blown-in doors and windows in 10 school buildings near the site so that all schools in the area can resume classes Monday.

Local authorities investigating the cause of the accident said an unspecified number of people were taken into police custody on Friday.

The facility involved in the explosion belonged to Tianjiayi Chemical, a firm with 195 employees established in 2007 that mainly produces raw chemical materials including anisole, a highly flammable compound.

Tianjiayi Chemical has a history of violating environmental regulations, according to online records from Yancheng city’s environment and ecology bureau.

In 2015 and 2017, the firm was fined for violating rules on solid and water waste management.

Several residents told AFP they were concerned about pollution from the industrial accident.

“We don’t have drinkable water here,” one 60-year-old woman surnamed Xiang said. “Why hasn’t the government sent us some water?“

According to a report released Friday by Jiangsu province’s ecology and environment department, several rivers near the blast site are contaminated with chemicals, including chloroform and dichloromethane.

But the city government said Saturday that “continuous environmental monitoring data show that pollution indicators are within the normal range, and the drinking water... is not affected.”

Authorities said they had also dammed a tributary to the nearby Xinfeng River to prevent any “outflow of sewage from the chemical industrial park.”

An aerial view of the blast area showed a large swathe of destruction in the industrial park, where multiple fires had raged.

Firefighters extinguished the blaze Friday after battling raging flames through the night. Three chemical tanks and five other areas had been on fire.

Deadly industrial accidents are common in China, where safety regulations are often poorly enforced.

In November, a gas leak at a plant in the northern Chinese city of Zhangjiakou, which will host the 2022 Winter Olympics, killed 24 people and injured 21 others.

In 2015, China saw one of its worst industrial accidents when giant chemical blasts in the northern port city of Tianjin killed at least 165 people.