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Bangladesh army chief says no to military takeover

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AP
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Bangladesh's army chief has said the country's military has no intention of taking over the government despite a current state of emergency in the strife-torn country, a domestic news agency reported on Friday.

During a visit to the country's southeast on Thursday, Lt Gen Moeen U Ahmed made the comment as he talked to local officials and community leaders, the United News of Bangladesh agency reported.

"The army has no intention to take over," Ahmed was quoted as saying by the agency. Ahmed said the troops are just backing an interim government, which is responsible for overseeing a new election.

"We'd like to see this (interim) government successful, as we want to put the country on the right track," Ahmed was quoted as saying.

<b1>The statement is the first on the subject by the army since President Iajuddin Ahmed declared a state of emergency on January 11 to quell weeks of violent street protests ahead of elections that have since been postponed.

At least 34 people have been killed since October when Prime Minister Khaleda Zia handed over power to a caretaker government to hold the new elections.

Zia's rival, Sheikh Hasina, organized the street protests to demand electoral reforms and accused the country's election commission of bias toward Zia.

Hasina, also a former prime minister, led a major political alliance of 19 parties. No new election date has been set.

Army troops, using special emergency powers, have launched a nationwide crackdown against allegedly corrupt politicians.

Over past few weeks, they arrested about 60 politicians including at least 12 former ministers.

Many of the arrested politicians have been sent into jail for a month, but the High Court on Thursday asked the government to explain in two weeks why they had been detained.

In the latest move, the security officials led by troops late Thursday arrested a former junior energy minister, AKM Mosharraf Hossain, who in 2005 stepped down from Zia's Cabinet amid allegations of taking bribes from a Canadian oil and gas company. United News of Bangladesh reported.

Bangladesh, an impoverished nation of 144 million, has a history of political turmoil. Two presidents have been slain in military coups, and Hasina and Zia have traded premierships since the restoration of democracy in 1991.

The country has been ruled by the military for about 15 years since it gained independence from Pakistan in 1971.