Election campaign posters hang over a street in Dhaka on December 25. Photo: AFP

More than 10,500 Bangladeshi political activists  have been arrested in a crackdown ahead of elections this week, opposition parties said Tuesday.

The figures were released after Washington urged Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government to do more to ensure free polls on Sunday when she is aiming to win a record fourth term.

Opposition parties said the crackdown since the election was called on November 8 was intended to create a “climate of fear.”

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), whose leader Khaleda Zia is serving a 17-year jail term, said 7,021 of its activists had been detained.

The party’s Islamist ally, Jamaat-e-Islami, said more than 3,500 of its followers were in custody. Jamaat-e-Islami is banned from contesting elections but has candidates taking part as individuals with the BNP.

“Every day 80 to 90 of our activists have been arrested nationwide. These arrests have created a climate of fear,” Jamaat secretary general Shafiqur Rahman told AFP.

Police spokesman Sohel Rana did not confirm any figure for arrests, but said they did not make “unnecessary arrests” without warrants.

“We never target any individual unless they break the law. These people have specific warrants against them,” he told AFP.

– with reporting by Agence France-Presse