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January 6, 2014

Election day tone subdued in Dhaka

NORMAN — Editor’s note: Transcript senior staff writer Joy Hampton is traveling with a U.S. State Department-sponsored group to Bangladesh. Journalists from Bangladesh visited Oklahoma in 2013.

 

DHAKA — On Election Day, the streets were quiet in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the nation’s capital city of 19 million people, due to a government ban on motorized vehicles. In the days leading up to the election, dozens of schools were torched, 100 people reported injured and at least three people were reported killed as part of opposition party protests.

On Sunday, only media, ambulances and a few buses were allowed on the streets. As a result, millions of people stayed home, creating an unwanted holiday for many of the working poor such as rickshaw drivers and street vendors who depend on the crowds moving through Dhaka for their daily living. Most said they had never seen the streets of Dhaka quiet in their lifetimes.

At the Pan Pacific Sonargaon hotel, current home to the traveling delegation of Oklahoma visitors, journalists from around the world arrived to report on the election.  Hotel security includes guards inside and outside of the facility, some armed, and a sweep for car bombs on arrival. Guests walk through a metal detector to enter, and bags run through the X-ray scan. It’s been a daily fact since our arrival in Dhaka and the security is provided for guests’ comfort and safety.

But the truth is, the real hazard in the days of violence leading to the election have been for the people who are most vulnerable and who can least afford the loss. Schools were burned because they were designated to serve as polling places, but when the election has passed and school resumes, the children and their teachers will have no place to go, no books to read.

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