A powerful bomb ripped through an election rally of the former ruling party, the Awami League, last night in southwestern Bagerhat district leaving at least eight people dead and over 24 wounded.

The bomb exploded at around 5.45pm when Awami League candidate former MP Sheikh Helal, was about to address the rally at Mollarhat. Some of the injured were admitted to local hospital and clinics.

Helal who is the cousin of former prime minister Sheikh Hasina escaped unhurt. No one has claimed responsibility for the explosion.

The Awami League blamed the rival Bangladesh Nationalist Party-Jamaat for the bomb attack. Reports of troubles were also received from different parts of the country including from southern Chittagong where shots were fired on a motorcade of former communication minister of BNP government Col (Rtd) Oli Ahmad. He remained unhurt.

Scores of shops and houses were ransacked in Chittagong city as a backlash of the armed attack on Oli's motorcade. The escalation of pre-election violence that is now on increase claimed about 200 lives in past two months.

More than 100 people have been killed and thousands injured in political violence in Bangladesh since July when a caretaker government took over from Sheikh Hasina to organise the election.

In 11 major bomb explosions in Bangladesh since 1999, at least 81 people have been killed and 400 injured.

Meanwhile, police said they were investigating charges made by rival candidates from the country's two major political parties after a violent incident in the capital Dhaka.

The violence continued yesterday with police on the southwestern Bhola island where two Awami League activists were killed late Saturday in an attack thought to be linked to politics.

Police said at least 12 people, including one policeman, were injured in clashes between BNP and Awami League supporters at Gournadi, near Bhola.

Meanwhile, an armed attack on former minister Tofael Ahmed, an Awami League candidate, was repulsed by police.

Newspapers reported political clashes in eight other Bangladeshi districts.

The Daily Star and the Janakantha newspapers also reported attacks on homes of minority Hindu communities, in an apparent bid to deter them from voting, in several areas including the southern Bagerhat and eastern Chandpur districts.

In another incident at Dhaka University a group of men attacked a poster exhibition against religious fanaticism organised by students, police said.

The private Ekushey Television channel said the group destroyed posters and torched a national flag, besides damaging the windows of the Institute of Fine Arts, across the street from the university campus.

Poll observers from the European Union have said they are "concerned by politically motivated violent incidents and their effect on the polls atmosphere."