Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, political affairs head at the United Nations who returned after a five-day trip to the South Asia country, warned the current crisis is taking a heavy human as well as economic toll and if not resolved soon could seriously threaten the economic and social progress Bangladesh has worked hard to achieve.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who spoke with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and President Abdul Hamid on telephone Wednesday, urged them to resolve differences through dialogue, U.N. News said.
Bangladesh has been hit by a number of violent protests in recent weeks in which more than 40 people have died. The protests are organized by various opposition parties led by the main Bangladesh Nationalist Party against the Hasina government.
Their protests have included countrywide blockade of all forms of transport, leading to sabotage, authorities have said.
Tensions are mounting as the opposition parties have rejected the government's decision to hold elections Jan. 5. Instead, the parties want a neutral caretaker government to conduct the elections.
The opposition parties have planned to boycott the Jan. 5 elections, but Hasina appears determined to proceed with them.
While noting that Bangladeshi leaders "have shown statesmanship," Fernandez-Taranco, who met with government, opposition leaders and election officials on his trip, later told reporters in the capital Dhaka:
"It remains critical to reduce tension and to continue to engage in constructive dialogue so as to create a congenial atmosphere. There are measures that would contribute immensely: a call by all sides to end the violence, the release of opposition political leaders, and a mutually satisfactory solution to concerns regarding the election schedule."
With the ongoing violence, the BBC reported recently that there was growing speculation of a state of emergency being declared.
During a similar situation in 2007, the military intervened to set up a caretaker government and in the elections held two years later, Hasina's Awami League party won a massive victory.
The United States also supports negotiations between Hasina and opposition leaders led by Khaleda Zia, head of the BNP party.
"It's difficult to see how the election, if it goes ahead, can have credibility in Bangladesh or in the eyes of the international community," political analyst Shahiduzzaman at Dhaka University told the Wall Street Journal.
Hasina, daughter of the founder of Bangladesh Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and Khaleda Zia, widow of a military commander during the 1971 Bangladesh war for independence from Pakistan, have been political foes for years, the Journal said.
The current situation has not been helped by the various war crimes trials by a tribunal set up by the current government. These trials have been against Islamist leaders accused of aiding the Pakistani military in 1971 and opposing the creation of Bangladesh.
Opponents of the Hasina government say their supporters have been shot and killed by police. The government denies the claims.
Speaking to the Journal, BNP leader Shamsher Mubin Chowdhury denied his party supporters have indulged in acts of violence, adding, "The government has lost its legitimacy and lost control of the country."