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Bangladesh PM Hasina records big victory amid vote rigging claims
[DHAKA] Prime minister Sheikh Hasina's ruling party won Bangladesh's election with a thumping majority, the country's Election Commission said early on Monday, giving her a third straight term following a vote that the opposition rejected as rigged.
An alliance dominated by Ms Hasina's Awami League won 287 of the 298 seats for which results have been declared for the country's 300-strong parliament. The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which boycotted the last poll in 2014, won just six seats.
"My congratulations to the Awami League," Helal Uddin Ahmed, secretary of the Election Commission Secretariat, said in a televised speech, reading the results.
Ms Hasina's win consolidated her decade-long rule over Bangladesh, where she is credited with improving the economy and promoting development, but has also been accused of rampant human rights abuses, a crackdown on the media and suppressing dissent - charges she denies.
Raising minimum wages for workers in Bangladesh's massive garments industry, the world's second biggest after China, could be one of her first tasks after she takes office, party leaders have said. Ms Hasina will meet foreign journalists and poll observers at her official residence later on Monday.
Opposition leader Kamal Hossain said their alliance, National Unity Front led by the BNP, had called on the Election Commission to order a fresh vote under a neutral administration "as soon as possible", alleging Sunday's poll was flawed.
At least 17 were people were killed as the vote took place, police said, after a violent campaign season during which the opposition alleged Ms Hasina's government never granted it a level playing field.
"The whole election was completely manipulated. It should be cancelled," 82-year-old Mr Hossain said in an interview at his residence in the capital Dhaka late on Sunday. Candidates of the alliance reported witnessing ballot-stuffing and vote rigging by ruling party activists, who also barred opposition polling agents from voting centres, Mr Hossain said.
"We've had bad elections in the past, but I must say that it is unprecedented how bad this particular election was. The minimum requirements of free and fair election are absent."
Mr Hasina's son, Sajeeb Wazed, called the opposition "sore losers making false allegations".
The Election Commission said it was investigating allegations of vote rigging from across the Muslim-majority country of 165 million people. An agency spokesman declined to say if those probes would affect the election result.
Awami League's joint secretary Jahangir Kabir Nanak said the opposition had been rejected by voters and that its refusal to accept voting results was "not unusual."
"It is their old habit," he said referring to the BNP, which has alternated in power with the Awami League for most of the last three decades. "We thought they would welcome this election for a change. But they could not change their habit," Mr Nanak said.
Scores of opposition workers were arrested in the months before the election on charges that the opposition said were "fictitious," and many said they were attacked by ruling party activists, crippling their ability to campaign.
Ms Hasina's government has denied the accusations and her party says many of its own workers have been injured in attacks by the opposition. Seven ruling party workers and five BNP workers were killed and 20 wounded on election day, police said.
"The election is a cruel mockery with the nation. This type of election is harmful to the nation," BNP secretary-general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said.
Reuters reporters across the country witnessed sparse attendance at polling booths, and some voters alleged ruling party workers had blocked them from entering booths saying their ballots had already been cast. Campaign posters of the ruling party dominated streets in many parts of Dhaka.
This was the first election in which the BNP campaigned without its leader Khaleda Zia - Ms Hasina's arch rival. The two women have alternated in power for most of the last three decades, but Khaleda has been in jail since February on corruption charges that she says are politically motivated.
Opposition leader Mr Hossain said he would meet with alliance members on Monday to decide their next step.
The Election Commission said it would hold a fresh vote for one seat where the poll was marred by violence. Another constituency, where a candidate died days before the election, will also go to the polls in the next few days.