DHAKA: UN chief Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State John Kerry called Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Wednesday to stress the need for talks with the opposition to resolve an election standoff.
The phone calls stepped up diplomatic pressure on Bangladeshi leaders to find a solution to the stalemate amid a worsening of political violence that has left nearly 80 people since late October.
"John Kerry emphasised (the need for) continuous talks between the two parties," and said that the US "expects a peaceful solution" to the stalemate, Hasina's spokesman Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury told reporters.
"Kerry said all should refrain from violence and seek a political consensus through dialogue so the upcoming election could be held peacefully," Chowdhury said.
Ban also called Hasina, expressing his hopes for dialogue to end the row that has plunged the country into crisis, her press secretary Abul Kalam Azad told AFP.
The UN assistant secretary for political affairs, Oscar Fernandez Taranco, who wound up a visit to Bangladesh on Wednesday confirmed the phone calls by the world's top diplomats.
The calls came after officials from the country's ruling Awami League party and the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) held one-to-one talks for the first time in years in a bid to defuse the row.
BNP and its smaller Islamist allies have said they will boycott the January 5 polls and have called a series of crippling strikes and transport blockades.
Some 77 people have died in clashes since late October when the BNP-led 18-party opposition movement launched the protests calling on Hasina to resign and make way for the polls under a neutral caretaker government.
The opposition, led by Hasina's rival Khaleda Zia, has said it fears the premier will try to rig the vote in a country plagued by coups and political upheaval for decades
Hasina has rejected the demands for her resignation and is determined to hold the polls as scheduled, insisting it is a constitutional requirement.
Observers said although the two parties have held two rounds of talks, decades of distrust mean it is unlikely a deal is immediately in the cards.
UN envoy Fernandez-Taranco said a third meeting between the parties has been agreed but more must be done to build confidence.
"There are measures that would contribute immensely: a call by all sides to end the violence, release of opposition political leaders and a mutually satisfactory solution to concerns regarding the election schedule," he told a press briefing.
"The leaders have shown statesmanship. It remains critical to reduce tension and to continue to engage in constructive dialogue so as to create a congenial atmosphere.
Hasina's plan to go ahead with the polls without the BNP suffered a major blow last week when her key ally -- the Jatiya Party, the third-largest political organisation in the country, led by ex-military dictator Hussain Muhammad Ershad -- announced it would also boycott the vote.
This year, Bangladesh has witnessed its worst political violence since independence. In another dispute, clashes between opposition protesters demanding a halt to war crime trials of their leaders and police have left at least 150 people dead.
On Tuesday, the country's highest court halted the execution of an Islamist leader at the eleventh hour after a global outcry over fair trials.
The Supreme Court stopped the hanging of Abdul Quader Molla, a senior leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, just 90 minutes before he was to become the first person executed for war crimes during the country's bloody independence fight.
Jamaat and its key ally, BNP, have decried the war crimes trials as a government witch-hunt against opposition leaders.