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Hasina takes early lead as Bangladesh opposition rejects polls | News

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Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has taken a massive lead as votes were counted in a general election marred by opposition claims of rigged voting, and deadly violence between rival supporters.

The country’s main opposition alliance rejected Sunday’s polls, calling on the election office to scrap them and announce fresh elections under a non-partisan government.

“We reject the farcical election, and want the election commission to hold a fresh election under a non-partisan administration,” Kamal Hossain, head of the opposition Jatiya Oikya Front alliance, told a news conference on Sunday night.

Election-related clashes killed 17 people, police said, including seven people from the ruling party and five from the opposition alliance. Police spokesperson Sohel Rana said more than 20 people were injured. 

Early results showed Hasina racing into a lead, winning each of the first 29 seats declared – some by tens of thousands of votes – according to Channel 24, which is compiling results from around the country.

The deadly violence and bitter rivalry that marred the election campaign spilled over into voting day, even as authorities imposed tight security with 600,000 troops, police and other security forces deployed across the country.

Ten people were killed in clashes between Hasina’s ruling Awami League party and supporters of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, police said, while three men were shot by police who said they were protecting polling booths.

An auxiliary police member was also killed by armed opposition activists, according to officials.

Hasina, 71, has been lauded for boosting economic growth in the poor South Asian nation during her decade in power and for welcoming Rohingya refugees fleeing a military crackdown in neighbouring Myanmar.

But critics accuse her of authoritarianism and crippling the opposition, including archrival Khaleda Zia who is serving 17 years in prison on graft charges, to cling on to power.

The BNP-led opposition alliance on Sunday accused Hasina’s party of using stuffed ballot boxes and other illegal means to fix the result, which was to be announced on Monday.

BNP spokesperson Syed Moazzem Hossain Alal told reporters there were “irregularities” in 221 of the 300 seats contested. Its ally Jamaat-e-Islami said it would reject the results.

“Voters are not allowed to enter booths. Especially women voters are being forced to vote for the boat,” Alal said, referring to the Awami League symbol.

‘We’ll cast your vote’

Bangladesh election commission spokesman SM Asaduzzaman told the AFP news agency the body had “received a few allegations of irregularities” and was investigating.





The BNP-led opposition alliance on Sunday accused Hasina’s party of using stuffed ballot boxes [Mahmud Hossain Opu/Al Jazeera]

Authorities ordered mobile operators to shut down high-speed internet services until midnight Sunday “to prevent the spread of rumours” that could trigger unrest. One independent television news channel complained that its broadcasts were blocked.

Voting in the capital Dhaka was largely peaceful as convoys of soldiers and paramilitary forces were on the streets where most traffic was banned.

“I have never missed voting in my life. This is probably the last election for me and I want a suitable candidate for my country,” 98-year-old Abdus Salam said at a Dhaka polling station.

However, voters in provincial areas reported intimidation. Atiar Rahman said he was beaten by ruling party activists in the central district of Narayanganj.

“They told me not to bother, ‘We’ll cast your vote on your behalf,'” he said.

The opposition said the unrest was stirred up to deter voters, and presiding officers reported a low turnout across the country.

Police said they acted “in self-defence” in the southern town of Bashkhali, when they fired on opposition supporters who stormed a polling booth, killing one.

In a separate incident, a man was shot by police after he tried to steal a ballot box.

Free and fair?

Hasina needs 151 seats to control parliament but experts say a victory would be sullied by accusations that she hamstrung opponents.

The opposition says more than 15,000 of its activists were detained during the campaign, crushing its ability to mobilise support.

Human Rights Watch and other international groups said the crackdown created a climate of fear which could prevent opposition supporters from casting ballots.

The United States raised concerns about the credibility of the election while the United Nations called for greater efforts to make the vote fair.

Seventeen opposition candidates have been arrested over what they claim are trumped-up charges while another 17 were disqualified from running by courts, which Hasina’s opponents say are government controlled.

The Bangladeshi leadership has alternated between Hasina and Zia, allies-turned-foes, over the last three decades.

Hasina rejects accusations of authoritarianism but analysts say she feared young voters would support the BNP.

Her government was criticised this year for its heavy handling of weeks of major student protests that brought Dhaka to a standstill.

Hasina, daughter of Bangladesh’s first president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was gifted victory in the 2014 election when the BNP boycotted the vote claiming it was not free and fair.

Rights groups have since accused her administration of stifling freedom of speech by toughening a draconian anti-press law and the enforced disappearance of dissenters.

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Ottawa families give mixed reviews for online schooling

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So, how’s it going with online school? Families reached by CBC Ottawa seem to have mixed reviews. 

Masuma Khan is a mother of two. Her seven-year-old, Hana Wyndham in Grade 2, is attending French immersion virtual school. Masuma is grateful it’s an option, but can’t help notice a lot of down time.

“There’s a lot of, ‘are you on mute?’ In terms of the amount of learning that’s actually happening, it does seem to be not that high,” said Masuma.

Parents who kept their children at home this fall are in the minority, but they still form a significant chunk of families in Ottawa.

In the city’s largest school board, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), about 27 per cent of elementary students and 22 per cent of high school students chose online learning. The Ottawa Catholic School Board says roughly a quarter of its students are online.

For Masuma, the decision to keep her daughter home was complex: extended family members are immunocompromised and she worried the in-person learning environment would be unpleasant because of precautions. She also felt her daughter might benefit from being supported at home.

“She doesn’t necessarily enjoy school. I also found out during the pandemic that she was being bullied [last year],” said Masuma. “So I thought, why not try from home?”

To help her daughter socialize face-to-face with other kids, Masuma enrolled Hana in Baxter Forest School, an alternative education program where kids spend most of their time outside, one day a week. Hana also attends virtual Arabic classes two days a week after school. 

Masuma’s husband and Hana share the living room work space, and Masuma admits he does the lion’s share of helping their daughter stay on task. There is a possibility that he’ll be required to return to his office in the new year.

“When he goes back to work … it’s probably going to be a little bit more difficult.”

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No school closures after Christmas holiday break, says Ontario education minister

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Ontario elementary and secondary schools will not close for an extended winter break, says Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

Closures aren’t needed given Ontario’s “strong safety protocols, low levels of (COVID-19) transmission and safety within our schools,” Lecce announced Wednesday afternoon. He said he had consulted with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams and the province’s public health measures advisory table.

That ended speculation about school buildings remaining closed in January for a period of time after the Christmas break.

Earlier in the week, Lecce told reporters the government was considering having students spend “some period out of class” in January, perhaps switching to online learning.

In a statement, Lecce said that even though rates of community transmission of COVID-19 are increasing, “schools have been remarkably successful at minimizing outbreaks to ensure that our kids stay safe and learning in their classrooms.”

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Windy start to the week in Ottawa

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OTTAWA — It’s a blustery Monday in the capital with wind gusts of up to 50 km/hour expected throughout the day.

Environment Canada is forecasting a high of 4 C with a 60 per cent chance of showers or flurries before the wind dies down later this evening.

There’s a chance of flurries on Tuesday as well with a high of -1 C. The overnight low will dip to an unseasonal -9 C.  

Wednesday’s high will be just -5 C with lots of sunshine.

Seasonal temperatures return for the rest of the week..

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