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Bangladesh's Election Commission investigating vote rigging allegations

Dhaka

BANGLADESH'S Election Commission is investigating allegations of vote rigging coming from across the country on Sunday, a spokesman told Reuters, as polling for a general election marred by violence drew to a close.

Clashes between supporters of the ruling Awami League and its opponents have killed at least 10 and wounded more than 20, police said.

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) said one of its candidates from Dhaka was stabbed while he was moving around in his constituency. Police said the circumstances of the attack on Salahuddin Ahmed were not yet clear.

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The Election Commission said it would act if rigging was confirmed in the first fully competitive general election in a decade. "Allegations are coming from across the country and those are under investigation," commission spokesman SM Asaduzzaman said. "If we get any confirmation from our own channels then measures will be taken as per rules."

Reuters reporters across the country of 165 million people saw sparse turnout at polling booths during the election. Early results show Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina heading for a landslide election win, giving her a third straight term in office.

Mahbub Talukdar, one of the five election commissioners who stirred a controversy last week by saying there was no level-playing field for the parties, told Reuters he did not see any opposition polling agents near the Dhaka booth where he voted, suggesting they had been kept away.

The clashes in the Muslim-majority country broke out between workers of the Awami League and its opponents, led by the BNP of former prime minister Khaleda Zia. At least one of the victims was attacked by a machete-carrying group, police said, adding a man from a paramilitary auxiliary force also died.

Alleging vote manipulation, at least six candidates fighting against the Awami League withdrew from the contest in Khulna, a divisional headquarters 300km south-west of Dhaka.

The BNP boycotted the last election in 2014 claiming it wouldn't be free and fair. The party has been hobbled by the absence of Khaleda, 74, who has been in jail since February on corruption charges which she says are politically motivated.

Ms Hasina and Khaleda have alternated in power for most of the last three decades and this is the first election the BNP has contested without its leader.

It stitched together the National Unity Front alliance with smaller parties, but has alleged its supporters and candidates faced attacks and intimidation, including shootings and arrests, at the hands of ruling party activists during campaigning. Some BNP leaders and a European diplomat said they feared the election would be rigged. REUTERS