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Former Bangladesh premier says wants to face law at home

Zia has been hounded by the interim authority in a crackdown on corruption.

world Updated: Apr 21, 2007 13:12 IST
Nizam Ahmed

Bangladesh's former prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia, under government pressure to go into exile, wants to fight any charges brought against her at home, a close aide said.

Khaleda and bitter rival Sheikh Hasina, also an ex-leader of the impoverished country, have been hounded by the army-backed interim authority in a crackdown on corruption that has so far netted more than 160 senior politicians.

Hasina, who faces charges of extortion and murder at home, has effectively been barred from returning to Bangladesh after making a private visit to the United States. She is presently in London.

Khaleda ended her five-year tenure as prime minister in October, replaced by an army-backed authority that says it is determined to clean up politics ahead of a promised but as yet unscheduled parliamentary election.

Former army brigadier Hannan Shah, a former minister and a member of Khaleda's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), met Khaleda yesterday in Dhaka where she is under house arrest.

"She is not going into exile but trying to restructure the party," Shah told reporters. "The chief strongly opposes going abroad. She would rather face the law within this country, if it comes to her."

In March, security forces jailed Khaleda's elder son and political heir apparent Tareque Rahman, and last week they briefly detained her younger son Arafat Rahman.

BNP insiders said today the government was maintaining pressure on Khaleda to leave the country with Arafat.

They said they were told travel documents were ready for them to board a plane to Saudi Arabia. The government and airport officials declined comment.

An election had been planned for January but was called off as followers of Khaleda and Hasina fought street battles for weeks, killing at least 45 people and injuring hundreds.

The two women, who do not speak to each other and had been considered top contenders in any election, are widely blamed for many of the nation's problems.