Bangladesh may free former prime minister Zia

June 15th, 2008 - 7:05 pm ICT by IANS  

Dhaka, June 15 (IANS) Bangladesh’s military-backed regime is preparing to free former prime minister Khaleda Zia from detention days after it released on parole another former premier, Shiekh Hasina, and allowed her to go abroad for medical treatment. Zia’s release seemed imminent and her Dhaka cantonment home was being spruced up in anticipation of her return, the Daily Star newspaper said Sunday.

Zia, who heads the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), has been held on corruption charges since last September. Her arch-rival and head of Awami League (AL) Hasina was released from custody last Wednesday and allowed to go to the US to receive medical treatment.

The former premiers have been among more than 150 top politicians held by the government since mid-2007 as part of its crackdown on corruption that has also included arrests of top businessmen and thousands of political activists.

Media reports here Sunday said the government was working out ways to release Zia on bail, and let her two jailed sons - Tarique Rahman and Arafat Rahman Koko - go abroad for medical treatment.

“The BNP is one of the biggest parties of the country and represents a large part of the population. The government is coordinating both humanitarian and legal aspects to ensure participation of the two big parties in the election,” Commerce Advisor (minister) Hossain Zillur Rahman, who is talking to the political parties on behalf of the caretaker government, told the New Age newspaper.

The Awami League Saturday constituted a team to join the ongoing political dialogue with the government.

At the same time, it activated its political links and prepared to revive the 14-party alliance of centrist and left-of-centre parties.

The BNP too heads a four-party alliance. The conflicting interests of the two alliances, that caused political turmoil and violence, led to the general elections being called off in January last year.

The political scene has since witnessed some realignment. Former military ruler H.M. Ershad, who heads Jatiya Party, is favourably disposed towards the caretaker government that has held 10 rounds of talks with smaller parties.

The Awami League and the BNP, many of whose leaders are jailed, had boycotted the talks.

The government’s move to facilitate Hasina’s foreign visit and the likely freedom for Zia and her sons earned criticism from Kamal Hossain, a legal luminary and former minister, who heads Gono Forum, a small party that has been a part of the Hasina-led alliance.

Hossain has been supportive of the government’s drive against corruption. “Questions are being raised about the government’s ability to manage,” he said at a media meet Friday, urging the officials of the military-backed caretaker government, “You have taken up a responsibility. Your patience, competence and honesty are being tested. Don’t let the corrupt people browbeat you.”

Awami League, BNP and other parties have lambasted Hossain for trying to impede a political process and branding fellow-politicians as corrupt and guilty before the courts could hand down their verdict.

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