Army back to barracks, Dhaka moves towards polls

The president amended controversial order of Dec 10 asking armed forces to be on stand by for any contingency in aid of civil authority.

india Updated: Dec 14, 2006 17:16 IST

With the military deployed across Bangladesh ordered back to barracks, Bangladesh has again begun to move towards general elections due next month.

President Iajuddin Ahmed on Wednesday amended his controversial order of December 10 asking the armed forces to be on stand by for any contingency in aid of civil authority.

The Daily Star described the decision as "a U-turn" by Ahmed.

Ahmed, whom doubles as chief advisor of the interim government that is to conduct the polls next month, also indicated his willingness to send on leave two election commissioners he had appointed last month.

SM Zakaria and Modabbir Hussain Chowdhury may be sent on "leave of absence" over the next three days, ending Ahmed's tussle with the 14-party alliance and giving both sides a face-saver, media reports said Thursday.

Sheikh Hasina's main opposition Awami League, who is also a former prime minister, said after the president's order that her 14-party alliance would hold a rally in Dhaka.

The battle for election dates, however, persists.

While Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chief Khaleda Zia, who until recently was the prime minister, wants to advance the polls to accommodate Saraswati Puja celebrations by Hindus, Sheikh Hasina has sought a postponement.

The alliance Hasina leads has said that much time that should have gone for campaigning had been "wasted by one man," an obvious reference to Ahmed, and so this should be compensated.

However, the polling process has to end by January 25, when the 90-day tenure of the interim government ends.

A move unlikely is the resignation of Ahmed as chief advisor that the Hasina-led alliance has sought.

"I have told the parties that it is unpractical," US envoy to Dhaka Patricia A. Butenis said after a meeting with Ahmed on Wednesday.

Butenis is among the clutch of diplomats who has been in the thick of things in Dhaka, trying to work out compromises.

The Election Commission has launched its process of checking the voters' lists.

First Published: Dec 14, 2006 17:13 IST