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New Bangladesh cabinet sworn in

Members of the new Govt were sworn in after a bitter impasse between BNP and AL led to cancelled elections and a state of emergency.

india Updated: Jan 18, 2007 16:55 IST

Members of Bangladesh's new interim government were sworn in on Saturday, after a bitter impasse between the country's two main political parties led to cancelled elections and a state of emergency.

Five members of the ten-member advisory council took the oath in a ceremony shown live on state-run television at the presidential palace in Dhaka.

The five included a newspaper owner, two leading businesspeople, a former chairman of the Security Exchange Commission, and a former anti-corruption commission official.

The remaining members of the non-party ten-member council were due to be appointed over the next few days.

The authorities had earlier lifted a curfew imposed two days ago as part of the emergency but the capital Dhaka's streets remained almost deserted.

Only cycle rickshaws, a few buses and cars were on the roads, even though Saturday was a normal working day.

The main opposition Awami League had threatened to resume protests Sunday but called them off after their demand for the cancellation of elections due later in January was met.

Former Bangladesh central bank governor Fakhruddin Ahmed, regarded by political commentators as a neutral figure, was sworn in as caretaker chief at a ceremony Friday.

He replaced the embattled President Iajuddin Ahmed, who stepped aside the previous day.

The independent Daily Star newspaper described Ahmed as a man of "personal integrity" with an illustrious career behind him and said his appointment should generate the confidence needed to stage the elections.

"It is up to him now to prove his mettle in the face of the daunting challenges that the job entails," said the top English-language circulation daily.

The business community, meanwhile, welcomed the state of emergency as a possible end to the disruption that has affected Bangladesh recently.

"Over the past six months, political instability has cost us millions of dollars in export orders. Our exports were on the brink of disaster," said SM Fazlul Haque, the president of the country's biggest export group.

"We welcome the state of emergency because it will bring stability to the country and at least ensure a congenial atmosphere for business," he said.

The new caretaker head, an economist whose most recent job was as head of the government's microfinance department, now faces the uphill task of winning the trust of all political parties and persuading them to take part in rescheduled elections.

The Awami League attended his swearing-in but the outgoing prime minister and leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), Khaleda Zia, and other senior BNP leaders, did not.

Analysts said their absence indicated that the army had put pressure on the BNP to agree to the Awami League's demands to postpone the elections and appoint a new caretaker government head to oversee work on a fresh voter list.

"It is fairly apparent that it (appointing a new caretaker government chief) was done under pressure from the army because of the threat that the country could lose its peacekeeping role," said Daily Star columnist Zafar Sobhan.

The United Nations had said earlier that elections without the opposition could result in the army being stripped of lucrative and prestigious peacekeeping duties.

The past week's crisis followed months of violent street protests, national strikes and blockades called by Sheikh Hasina Wajed's Awami League and its allies.

The party alleged that the BNP had sought to rig the election by appointing biased officials to the election commission and that the commission drew up a voter list containing some 14 million fake names.

First Published: Jan 18, 2007 16:55 IST