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Bangladesh awaits ex-PM Khaleda's release

The party of Bangladesh's detained former prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia said on Monday it believed she would be released soon but would not appeal to the country's interim government to free her.
By HT Correspondent | Reuters, Dhaka
UPDATED ON JUN 16, 2008 12:10 PM IST

The party of Bangladesh's detained former prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia said on Monday it believed she would be released soon but would not appeal to the country's interim government to free her.

"We hope and believe the government will free Khaleda Zia and her ailing sons shortly," Nazrul Islam Khan, a leader of Khaleda's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) told reporters.

His remarks follow the government's release of Khaleda's rival, former prime minister Sheikh Hasina, last week for medical treatment overseas.

"We will make no difference in attitudes and decisions between the former prime ministers (Hasina and Khaleda)," Bangladesh's home affairs adviser and minister MA Matin told reporters earlier on Sunday.

The retired army major-general also said the government was considering an appeal from the wife and daughter of one of Khaleda's two sons, also imprisoned for alleged graft, for his release.

The release of Hasina last Wednesday on parole was welcomed by her Awami League party, but critics of the government said the move could signal that it was backing away from promises to rid the country of corruption and to restore democracy.

Between the two, Hasina and Khaleda alternated as prime ministers of Bangladesh for 15 years marked by political unrest and corruption. Both women were imprisoned on charges of alleged corruption since last year.

Khaleda's BNP and Hasina's Awami League together represent around 80 percent of Bangladesh's more than 140 million people and analysts say one of the two parties will form the next government.

The incumbent interim government, headed by former central bank governor Fakhruddin Ahmed, is keen for both parties to take part in the next elections, which analysts and diplomats say will not be credible without them.

The BNP said it was waiting for Khaleda's release and her sons to be sent abroad for treatment, a move that would create conditions for the party to hold discussions with the government about the upcoming December polls.

But party secretary-general Khandaker Delwar Hossain said neither Khaleda nor her party would make an appeal -- like Hasina did -- to the interim government for her freedom.

"We demand they (Khaleda and sons) be freed immediately and it is the government's obligation to set them free, to prove its goodwill to hold a credible election and restore democracy," Delwar said.

Hasina was granted an eight-week parole on Wednesday for medical treatment abroad after spending 11 months in jail for alleged corruption. Her party subsequently said they would participate in talks with the interim government on the elections.

Khaleda and her two sons, Tareque Rahman and Arafat Rahman have also been in jail since they were arrested last year for graft and amassing wealth illegally.

Tareque's wife and daughter sent a written appeal to the Interior (Home) Ministry on Sunday seeking his release and foreign medical treatment for back ailments.

Courts prosecuting Hasina ruled before she was parolled that hearings would continue in her absence.

The same may happen to Khaleda, who is also being prosecuted for corruption.
Bangladesh's interim government took over in January 2007 following widespread political violence, imposed emergency rules, detained hundreds of key politicians and promised to hold a free and fair election before end of this year.

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