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Confontation looms in Bangladesh as talks collapse

The ruling BNP and the Opposition leaderships failed to agree on who should head a caretaker Govt to prepare for polls in January.

india Updated: Oct 26, 2006 12:49 IST

Workers of Bangladesh's two main parties - the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the opposition Awami League - were on Thursday preparing to take to the streets as their leaderships failed to agree on who should head a caretaker government to prepare for elections in January.

Ignoring opposition protests, Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's government was poised to quit on Saturday, passing the baton to its controversial nominee, retired chief justice KM Hasan, reported the New Age newspaper.

The crisis coincided with the Eid-ul-Fitr celebrations and sketchy reports said Zia would address the nation on radio and television Friday evening, probably to explain her government's stance.

The Awami League has been opposed to Hasan's appointment on grounds that he was earlier a BNP official and therefore could not be expected to be neutral when free and fair polls are needed.

The party said it would lay siege to the capital and hold resistance programmes all over the country Saturday, the day the caretaker government is supposed to take over.

"We will accept anybody except Hasan chosen according to constitutional provisions as caretaker government head," party general secretary Abdul Jalil told journalists on Wednesday evening at a press conference at the residence of his party chief and former prime minister Sheikh Hasina.

However, Bangladesh's Constitution stipulates that the caretaker should be the immediate past chief justice -- which Hasan is.

According to the opposition, the tenure of the present chief justice was deliberately raised by two years to ensure that Hasan remained the immediate past retired chief justice and hence eligible for the caretaker's task.

BNP's secretary general Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan said his side would not take chances with a constitutional appointment as anyone other than Hasan could be challenged in a law court, triggering a constitutional crisis.

"We are willing to sit and negotiate with the opposition on any issue except that of Justice KM Hasan becoming the chief adviser of the caretaker government," Bhuiyan said in a counter statement to the press.

"We will be handing over power to Justice Hasan as the constitution requires us to do so."

The statement effectively ends the weeks-long dialogue between Bhuiyan and Jalil on which the nation had pinned its hopes of a mutually acceptable, hence non-violent, end to the current political impasse, New Age newspaper said.

An earlier report said the prime minister had held a closed door meeting with the army top brass to discuss the likely scenario if the crisis persisted. She also asked the civil administration to maintain vigil.

Another report said the prime minister had instructed her party cadres to ensure that there was "no political vacuum", which is being interpreted in opposition circles as a green signal for preparing for confrontation on the streets.

The opposition, too, responded with matching vehemence, prompting speculation that but for a last minute compromise a confrontation was inevitable.

Although the two parties held seven rounds of formal talks, indications are that much of the talking was done over telephone and through the media.

This points to an absence of dialogue that Bangladesh's civil society, the chambers of trade and industry and envoys of major nations stationed here had been advocating for the past many weeks.

First Published: Oct 26, 2006 12:49 IST