Ex-Bangladesh PM freed, says party will contest polls

by Muhith Masih (বাবু) | September 12, 2008 1:24 am

DHAKA (AFP) — Ex-Bangladesh leader Khaleda Zia was freed after a year in prison on corruption charges Thursday and immediately said her party would contest elections to restore democracy in the emergency-ruled country.

The former prime minister, who had been detained since last September, was released on bail as part of efforts to end nearly two years of political limbo in one of the world’s poorest nations.

"If there is a free and fair election, the BNP (Bangladesh Nationalist Party) will come to power with the mandate of the common people," a tearful Zia told reporters.

"The BNP is a democracy-orientated party so, for the sake of democracy, we will join in the dialogue to plan for elections."

Her release — with graft charges still in place — was widely seen as a deal with the army-backed government in exchange for the participation of the BNP in the polls, which will end nearly two years of emergency rule.

The BNP’s involvement is seen as crucial for the success of the elections, as the army-backed government seeks to relinquish power.

Zia, 63, visited the grave of her husband, slain president Ziaur Rahman, immediately after she was released.

She then headed to the hospital where her son Tareque Rahman — also accused of graft and bailed last week — is being treated for injuries he says he suffered while being tortured in custody.

Thousands of supporters gathered outside the prison, the cemetery and hospital to greet Zia, dressed in a white sari.

Her son Rahman has been issued a British visa and could fly to London for treatment for a spinal injury as early as Thursday evening, lawyer Nadir Uddin Amir said.

Zia said Rahman would return to politics when he made a full recovery, which may take two or three years.

The government wants Zia to also travel abroad for medical treatment for her arthritic knee, but she does not want to leave Bangladesh.

She faces charges in four cases of corruption and misuse of power dating back to her two stints as premier from 1991-1996 and 2001-2006, including in the awarding of state contracts. No trial dates have been set.

Although the government wants Bangladesh’s major parties to take part in the polls, observers say it hopes to prevent Zia from returning to office.

"They will involve Zia and the BNP in the election agenda but there is still the veiled threat that she and her sons are on bail. It’s not explicit but it’s still there," Dhaka University politics professor Ataur Rahman said.

Zia and her arch-rival, fellow ex-premier Sheikh Hasina Wajed of the Awami League party are both blamed for rampant corruption and Bangladesh’s political meltdown that prompted the declaration of a state of emergency in January 2007.

That crisis saw the Awami League accuse the BNP of trying to rig elections, and weeks of strikes and violent protests brought the country to a standstill, prompting the army’s intervention.

Since then, the emergency government has tried clean up Bangladesh’s notoriously dysfunctional political system, including creating a new voter list, eliminating 12.7 million fake voters.

Sheikh Hasina was freed by the government in June and is in the United States in what is seen as a form of exile.


  1. ORIGINAL SOURCE: http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5hgJsYAyel45qZZGNTnu-MJQ9JqKw

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