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Opposition blockade enters fourth day

A nationwide transport blockade entered its fourth day despite a decision by the country's controversial poll chief to step aside.

india Updated: Nov 23, 2006 12:18 IST

A nationwide transport blockade entered its fourth day in Bangladesh on Thursday despite a decision by the country's controversial election chief to step aside as demanded by the Opposition.

President Iajuddin Ahmed, who heads the country's interim government, announced late on Wednesday that chief election commissioner MA Aziz would take three months' leave.

The decision was expected to pave the way for an end to the bloody political standoff that has seen the country paralysed by opposition blockades and mass protests.

The main opposition Awami League and its allies had accused Aziz of seeking to influence January elections in favour of the outgoing government led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and demanded that he quit.

The party said on Thursday it would decide later whether to call off its indefinite road, rail and river blockade.

"We have not withdrawn the blockade because most of our demands have not been met," said Obaidul Qader, a senior Awami league leader.

"The president has just sent Aziz on leave. But he has not yet removed all the controversial (deputy) election commissioners. Besides, it has not been decided who is going to act as the new election chief," he said.

Aziz's removal was one of a string of demands made by the opposition.

It had demanded that the president meet the demands to demonstrate his neutrality as head of the temporary caretaker government, which is in place to hold free and fair elections in January.

"We also think that the president has hardly done anything to neutralise the government administration which is still manned by officials who supported the outgoing BNP government," said Qader.

"We will discuss the latest development with our allies today and decide whether to continue with our blockade," he added.

Thousands of opposition supporters were on the streets of the capital Dhaka Thursday although police said they had no reports of any violence.

Bangladesh has seen months of protests and strikes by the opposition to press its demands for the removal of officials it accuses of political bias.

The president has said he expects the political crisis to be resolved by Aziz's decision and that two additional commissioners would now be appointed.

"Now I think his decision will end the political deadlock," the president said in his televised address.

The Awami League has accused Aziz and his deputies of drawing up a voter list with more than 10 million fake voters.

It also objected to the BNP's choice for head of the caretaker government, K.M. Hasan, a former BNP official during the 1970s.

The former supreme court judge eventually turned down the job and the president appointed himself head of the non-partisan body amid spiralling violence.

Four days of clashes between rival party activists after the BNP government's five-year tenure ran out October 27 left at least 25 people dead.

Bangladesh's caretaker government system is aimed at preventing an outgoing government from stacking the cards in their favour by appointing party supporters to key positions in the interim administration and the election commission.