Govt to hold talks over poll crisis amid protest threats
Opposition supporters said they would hold protests outside poll offices across the country to demand changes in the election panel.india Updated: Dec 14, 2006 12:59 IST
Bangladesh's interim government sought to hold talks with political parties in an attempt to end a crisis over upcoming elections, as a 14-party alliance threatened protests on Thursday demanding reforms despite a heavy army presence on the streets.
Supporters of the alliance said they would hold demonstrations outside election offices across the country to demand changes in the Election Commission, including the removal of two commissioners it says favor former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.
After meeting late Wednesday to discuss next month's polls, government advisers decided to seek talks with the alliance to discuss its demands.
"The alliance has said they will come to the polls if proposed changes are made," government adviser Shafiqul Huq Chowdhury said.
He said the government was hopeful it can resolve the outstanding issues "in two or three days".
The alliance, led by ex-Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, also wants the election date -- January 23 -- to be postponed further.
Advisers were also expected to hold talks with the alliance's main rivals, a four-party coalition led by Zia which wants the commissioners and the poll date unchanged.
The Election Commission has said the poll date, which has already been postponed by two days, cannot be delayed further because elections must be held within 90 days after a prime minister leaves office.
Zia ended her five-year term on October 28 and handed over power to the interim government to oversee the elections, as the Constitution stipulates.
Zia's coalition has accused the alliance of stalling to "spoil the atmosphere for holding elections."
"The government accepted their demands, but they are coming up with new ones," Zia told a meeting of her supporters Wednesday.
The government earlier sent Chief Election Commissioner MA Aziz on leave and changed the election date after the alliance staged a series of street protests and transport blockades that left more than 30 dead and scores injured.
On Tuesday, more than 5,000 alliance supporters rallied peacefully in Dhaka.
Iajuddin Ahmed, the titular president during Zia's tenure, stepped in to head the interim government after a previous candidate declined the post. He has since been accused of running the country with instructions from Zia.
Tensions have increased since Ahmed on Saturday deployed 17,000 soldiers across Bangladesh's towns and cities to maintain law and order.
But adviser Chowdhury said the troops will not be conducting day-to-day anti-crime drives, but will remain on standby to aid the police and paramilitary forces.
The army deployment has provoked concerns in a country with a history of military coups and repression.