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Sheikh Hasina denies exile rumours

world Updated: Mar 15, 2007 18:03 IST

AFP
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Bangladeshi opposition leader Sheikh Hasina Wajed has left the emergency-ruled country for the United States, a party official said Thursday, denying speculation she could be exiled.

"She left Thursday morning for America and will stay there for about a month," her press secretary Abul Kalam Azad said.

"Both her daughter and daughter-in-law are seriously ill. She went there to visit them."

Hasina was prime minister from 1996-2001 and heads the Awami League party.

Her departure comes amid media speculation that she and her main rival, the most recent prime minister Khaleda Zia of the Bangladeshi Nationalist Party (BNP), could be sent into exile by the country's military-backed interim government.

Since taking over two months ago, the interim government has been pushing voting reforms and overseeing a major anti-corruption drive that has seen senior figures from both the Awami League and BNP detained.

An interim government official last week denied reports that the two leaders, who have ruled the country in turns for the past 16 years could face exile.

However, another official warned that the massive anti-corruption crackdown launched by the interim government would not spare anyone.

"We will not spare anybody, however powerful, if the person is proved to have been corrupt," said Major General Masud Uddin Chowdhury, who is the coordinator of the body overseeing the corruption crackdown.

At least 45 top figures from the BNP and Awami League have so far been detained in the crackdown. Zia's son and heir apparent Tareque Zia was also arrested on extortion charge.

Military-led security forces also swooped on the residence of Hasina in central Dhaka twice but did not arrest anyone.

The new government came to power after the president declared a state of emergency in January, which includes a ban on all political activity, following months of strikes and deadly political violence.

National elections scheduled for January 22 were also cancelled after the opposition accused the BNP of trying to rig the polls. No new date has been set.

A political analyst said the sudden departure of Hasina was a significant event, raising some questions over whether she would return home in time.

"It's a significant event because she left the country at a time of emergency when many of her party leaders have been detained," Jahangirnagar University political science professor Golam Hossain said.

Bangladeshi politics have been dominated by the two women leaders ever since they joined forces in their fight against coup leader, military strong-man general Hussain Muhammad Ershad, in the 1980s.

But after Ershad was deposed in a people's revolt, the two became bitter political rivals.