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Caretaker chief pledges quick polls in Dhaka

Fakhruddin Ahmed did not name a new date for the vote, but said all steps to ensure a free, fair and credible election would be taken.
None | By Associated Press, Dhaka
PUBLISHED ON JAN 22, 2007 05:19 PM IST

Bangladesh's new interim leader pledged to hold elections as soon as possible, in his first national address to the country since taking office 10 days ago.

Fakhruddin Ahmed did not name a new date for the vote, which was originally scheduled for January 22 but postponed after months of unrest sparked by a political alliance's accusations that election officials were biased and the voter list rigged.

"My administration is pledge-bound to hold the new elections within the shortest possible time," Ahmed said in a televised address to the nation Sunday.

"Our motto is to hold a free, fair and participatory election."

Ahmed said all steps to ensure a free, fair and credible election would be taken.

It was his first nationwide speech since taking control of the country 10 days ago amid violent protests that left at least 34 people dead and caused the president to declare a state of emergency.

Ahmed did not say when the state of emergency would be lifted, but vowed that his administration would uphold press freedom and human rights.

Bangladesh has been crippled by a political stalemate since October when Prime Minister Khaleda Zia stepped down at the end of her five-year term and handed power to an interim government to steer the country through national elections.

A 19-party political alliance led by Zia's arch rival, Sheikh Hasina, however, accused the caretaker administration of favoring Zia's Bangladesh National Party and called for the interim head, President Iajuddin Ahmed, to step down.

They also accused several election officials of bias, said the electoral list was flawed and called for a postponement of the polls until a new list could be made.

On Sunday, the country's Chief Election Commissioner MA Aziz said he was resigning to make it easier for the interim government to prepare to hold free and fair national elections.

Also on Sunday, MA Matin, an adviser to the interim government, said it wants to reorganize the Election Commission as soon as possible.

He did not elaborate, but the Hasina-led alliance has demanded the appointment of neutral commissioners and called for it to be more independent financially.

On January 11, President Ahmed stepped aside as interim leader, indefinitely postponed the polls, and declared a state of emergency in a bid to quell the unrest.

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