DHAKA, Bangladesh - President Iajuddin Ahmed declared a state of emergency yesterday, stepped down as interim leader of Bangladesh's caretaker government, and postponed this month's elections, following violent protests by a key political alliance that has said it would boycott the vote.

Ahmed said in a televised speech that the balloting, which had been scheduled for Jan. 22, would be delayed. He did not give a new date.

"It's not possible to hold the elections on schedule," Ahmed said. "We need a flawless voter list to ensure that the elections are free, fair and credible."

A new voter list had been among the key demands of a major political alliance that has orchestrated paralyzing protests and strikes in recent months, alleging Ahmed's administration favored its rivals and saying it would boycott the vote. Ahmed's removal as head of the caretaker government was the alliance's other main demand.

"I've decided to step down as the chief adviser of the caretaker government," Ahmed said in a televised speech, "and I will, in a couple of days, appoint a new interim leader to hold an election in which all parties will be able to participate."

In the meantime, one of his advisers, Fazlul Haque, will serve as the head of the caretaker government, he said.

Ahmed said he would remain Bangladesh's president, a largely ceremonial role.

The state of emergency raised concern in a country with a history of military rule. Two presidents have been slain and 19 other coup attempts have failed in Bangladesh since it gained independence from Pakistan in 1971.

Under the constitution, the state of emergency suspends the fundamental rights of citizens.

The country's eight private television stations were told by the information ministry to suspend news programming and relay bulletins from state-run television, according to the stations' broadcasts.

Indefinite night curfew was imposed for the capital, Dhaka, and more than 60 other cities and towns, state-run TV reported.

The South Asian nation has been crippled by strikes and blockades orchestrated by former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her 19-party alliance, which opposes the election. The alliance plans a series of strikes and blockades starting Sunday.

Hasina's alliance alleged that Ahmed's interim government, charged with holding the polls, favored her archrival, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.