At least 11 people, all supporters of 18-party opposition alliance, were killed in Rangpur, Dinajpur, Nilphamari, Feni and Munshiganj when they tried to stage protests against the polls which they have already boycotted.

Also, one policeman was beaten to death by suspected strikers at a voting centre in Dinajpur.

Most of the voters preferred to stay inside home fearing violence during the polling which began at 8 a.m (0200 GMT) in 147 out of 300 constituencies in 59 districts of Bangladesh.

Paramilitary Border Guards and elite Rapid Action Battalion forces were deployed along with police as 390 candidates of mostly ruling Awami League and its ally Jatiya Party were contesting for the 147 seats in the "one- sided" election, being closely watched by India and the world powers.

There is no election in remaining 153 seats which have returned winners without a contest, as opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led alliance is boycotting the polls.

The voting in 147 constituencies where the number of voters is nearly 44,000,00 is very low, with the turnout being almost zero per cent at several polling centres in initial hours, local media reports said.

A poor turnout would give the opposition the chance to question the legitimacy of today's parliament elections.

A similar poll in 1996, boycotted by the opposition which was the Awami League, witnessed a mere 7 percent turnout and forced Khaleda Zia-led BNP government to call for fresh polls within months under a neutral non-party caretaker system.

Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmed had earlier said the huge deployment of security forces will give confidence to the voters and enable them to go and vote.

Officials said over 375,000 security personnel were deployed across Bangladesh to maintain peace and nearly 50,000 army troops were kept on vigil as "striking force".

But voting was suspended at 160 centres due to torching of booths and snatching of ballot boxes and papers. Opposition activists have set over 200 polling stations on fire.

The BNP-led opposition had demanded postponement of the polls and setting up of a non-party caretaker government, but Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina rejected the demands. Political violence during strikes enforced by the opposition since November have left nearly 140 people dead.


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