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'Dire' Bangladesh policing threatens democracy: think-tank

world Updated: Dec 14, 2009 15:22 IST

Bangladesh's police force is in such a "dire state" that it risks inviting a military takeover of law and order duties, an international research institute has warned.

The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a report published over the weekend that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government lacked the political will to reform the police force despite a UN-led effort to do so.

The ICG said the police force was a "tool to line the pockets of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen," and that if Hasina's government did not reform the system, the army could step in.

"The dire state of the force reflects failures by successive governments," the report said.

"The inability of the police to ensure law and order has provided the military with opportunities to intervene in politics, using the pretext of national security to derail the democratic process." Hasina's government came to power in January after two years of rule by an army-backed government.

She was jailed for a year by the military regime but then released as part of a deal to take part in the December 2008 election, which she won with a three-quarters majority.

The UN has spent 16.5 million dollars trying to reform the system over the past four years, but the ICG said impact had been "marginal" and the police force remained overstretched and underpaid.

Home Minister Sahara Khatun insisted Monday that progress had been made under the new government.

Police abuses for political gain "happened in the past, but not in our time. And also the law and order situation is now better," she told AFP.

But one senior police official, who requested anonymity, said little had changed.

"No government is serious enough to carry out police reforms here. We have talked about it for long. But we are fed up," the official said.

In February this year, Hasina's newly elected government was nearly overthrown following a mutiny at a military base in the capital.