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Violence plagues Bangladesh

7 killed, troops are deployed as election nears

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DHAKA, Bangladesh — Two days before a national election, the government deployed more than 500,000 soldiers and police in Bangladesh to control escalating political violence. Police said Saturday that seven more people were killed.

The fatalities came as Bangladeshi troops took up positions outside 30,000 polling stations throughout the country ahead of Monday's vote. The latest violence raised the death toll in pre-election clashes to 134 since campaigning started July 15. More than 2,000 others have been injured.

In the latest violence, police said three people were killed Friday in the towns of Barisal, Sandeep and Pabna. Four others died and dozens more were injured in Chittagong city, 135 miles southeast of the capital, Dhaka.

In downtown Dhaka, at least 20 people were injured when supporters of the Awami League and its rival, the Jatiya Party, traded gunfire and exploded homemade bombs Friday. Police used batons and rubber bullets to scatter the crowds.

Voters Monday will elect a 300-member Parliament and a new government. Two women who have both served as prime ministers once before — Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League and Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party — are the leading contenders for the five-year term as the country's leader.

Hasina, 55, is the daughter of the country's slain independence leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Zia, 56, is the widow of another assassinated general-turned-president, Ziaur Rahman.

The two main parties have promised to promote democracy, end corruption and reduce poverty. But neither would promise to refrain from holding general strikes against each other or walking out of Parliament if they lose the election.

Under voting rules, all campaign rallies must end by Saturday afternoon.

Thousands of Bangladeshis were traveling by trains, buses and ferries to their home villages to vote.

The election will be the fourth since democracy returned to Bangladesh in 1991 after the ouster of military ruler Hossain Mohammad Ershad.

This largely Muslim South Asian nation, which neighbors India, has witnessed the assassination of two presidents, three military coups, and 19 failed coup attempts since gaining independence from Pakistan in 1971.