No political dialogue without us, say Hasina, Zia

April 28th, 2008 - 2:59 pm ICT by admin  

Dhaka, April 28 (IANS) Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, former prime ministers of Bangladesh who are jailed for graft, have asked their party members not to cooperate with the army-backed caretaker government’s proposed political dialogue next month. Demanding immediate elections through their lawyers, Hasina and Zia have conveyed to the government that keeping them in jail on multiple charges, and thus out of politics, would not help the country return to normalcy.

Chief Advisor Fakhruddin Ahmed’s aide Syed Fahim Munaim had Sunday said that the dialogue would begin in May.

“The formal dialogues will begin next month, I think in the first or second week of the month,” Munaim was quoted as saying by New Age newspaper Monday.

An ‘informal’ dialogue the government has conducted in recent weeks was seen as a partial success. It has received support from former military ruler H.M. Ershad, who has returned to lead the Jatiya party after a long hiatus.

Ershad last week said it was possible to hold elections under the prevailing national emergency.

Advocating ‘cleansing’ of public life, legal luminary and former minister Kamal Hossain, who leads a small party ‘Gano Forum’ (People’s Forum), has been supportive of the government’s moves.

Hasina, meanwhile, said she would not quit politics “on anyone’s instructions”.

“Everyone in the present caretaker government that wants to keep me from politics by filing cases must remember I won’t give up politics on anyone’s instructions.

“It would be me and my people who would decide whether I should continue to be in politics,” one of Hasina’s counsels quoted her as saying in The Daily Star.

On the other hand, Zia’s absence, internal squabbles and government’s attempts at “political reforms” have led to her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) being virtually split.

A dissident group, accorded a measure of legitimacy by the Election Commission that invited it to the ‘informal’ talks, says the army personnel should guard the polling booths when the polls are held.

A blanket ban on political activity, imposed since January last year, continues even as the Election Commission makes preparations for elections promised at the year-end.

Apart from Hasina and Zia, about 200 former ministers, lawmakers and businessmen have also been arrested. Many have been convicted and sentenced to rigorous jail terms.

Of the two, Hasina, 61, has been ailing with eye and ear problems and a fluctuating blood pressure. Zia, 62, has knee problem.

Appeals, combined with criticism of the government’s human rights record over jailed politicians, have not moved the government.

The last such appeal last week was from Cherie Blair, lawyer, human rights activist and wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Allowed to meet Hasina, she told the government and the media that the provisions of the constitution “should not merely remain on paper”.

That Hasina has frequently fallen sick during court trials has also not moved the government, which is yet to decide on whether to release her on parole and let her go to the US for medical treatment.

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