Emergency-ruled Bangladesh's interim government has started a process to send detained former prime minister Sheikh Hasina abroad for treatment as a court in Dhaka exempted her from personal appearance for hearing in a graft case.
Officials and lawyers said a process has been launched to allow Hasina, also the Awami League chief, to undergo treatment abroad under an "executive order" particularly for her hearing impairment while jail sources said they were ready to release her as soon as the order reached the prison.
Judge Firoz Alam of the special graft court, trying one of the corruption cases against Hasina, ordered her exemption from personal appearance on a defence plea while the prosecution lawyers said they did not have any objection if she was allowed to go abroad for treatment.
The ex-premier's lawyers said Hasina needed no court permission for several other graft cases she faced with as she was yet to be indicted in those cases.
Separate medical boards constituted last week for Hasina and her arch-rival detained ex-premier Khaleda Zia of Bangladesh Nationalist Party suggested Zia's treatment "at home or abroad" and observed that Hasina must go abroad for critical hearing impairment.
Zia yesterday declined to leave the country "in any away" while Hasina said she was ready to be treated abroad if a medical board appointed earlier by the government advised so.
"I will not go abroad for treatment in any way, I will undergo treatment at home," Zia told reporters here. Hasina too last week told her lawyers that a "minus-2 conspiracy" was being hatched to discard herself and Zia from contesting the polls but her personal doctors and Awami League leaders said she must go abroad immediately or risk of becoming deaf permanently.
Zia was being treated for arthritis and some other ailments while Hasina was admitted earlier at a city facility under custody for various problems including fluctuating blood pressures, eye complains and cardiac complications.
Earlier, Hasina refused to be treated at home for her injured ears, which were damaged as she survived a grenade attack by suspected Islamist militants on August 21, 2004.
Detained Awami League general secretary Abdul Jalil is now being treated at Singapore on doctors' advice after the government allowed his conditional release on parole.
But the latest development came amid speculations that the government could send the two top leaders abroad for treatment as their parties declined to join a crucial dialogue with the caretaker administration without their release.
The boards were formed after a senior adviser of the interim cabinet last week said authorities were reviewing ways for their "conditional or unconditional" release to pave the way for a successful dialogue.
Political analysts said the boycott announcement of the two major parties exposed the process of "transition to democracy" to an apparent deadlock despite the government announcement to stage the now postponed general elections by the third week of December this year.
Political sources said the government earlier desperately tried to send Zia abroad in exile in Saudi Arabia but she declined to go leaving behind her two detained sons, charged in a number of graft and criminal cases.
The government later issued a temporary order debarring her from leaving abroad and her rival Hasina, who was on a tour abroad at that time, from coming back home.
The government stand was then dubbed by media as "minus two formula" of the interim administration to smoothen their massive reform campaign in the political arena alongside the tough anti-graft crackdown.