Dhaka regime working to ‘release’ two former PMs

June 4th, 2008 - 6:09 pm ICT by IANS  

Dhaka, June 4 (IANS) Bangladesh’s jailed former prime ministers Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina have insisted on unconditional release, refusing conditional parole or bail offered by representatives of the interim government during informal talks. During hospital visits of the two women leaders, ostensibly for medical check-up, the government, which wants the current political dialogue to succeed to prepare for the December elections, sent them feelers and offered packages, media reports said.

The development comes amid a seemingly carrot-and-stick policy of the government of arresting 12,000 political workers after mainstream political parties threatened mass agitation to secure freedom for the two leaders.

The Daily Star newspaper quoted unnamed sources in the government, and also Syed Ashraful Islam, acting general secretary of the Awami league led by Hasina, to confirm the talks.

“Sheikh Hasina was brought to the Square Hospital not for treatment but for negotiations,” said the party official, who has good contacts with the advisors (ministers) and officials of the caretaker regime of Chief Advisor Fakhruddin Ahmed, the newspaper said.

It also quoted jail authorities as saying that both Hasina, 61, and Zia, 62, facing trials on graft charges, would be taken to the private Square Hospital by turns.

While Zia, in jail since last September, is known to suffer from arthritis, Hasina, detained since July, has had multiple ailments and collapsed more than once in the courtroom.

Her earlier talks, for release to visit the US for medical treatment, did not succeed.

Deputy Inspector General of Prisons Major Shamsul Haider Siddique Monday told journalists that the BNP chairperson would be brought to a city hospital for a medical check-up and some pathological tests, if she agrees. “But she is yet to agree.”

Talking to The Daily Star, a source close to the BNP chairperson said: “Talks have been held with the BNP chairperson for her release on bail or parole. Even she has been asked whether she would join the dialogue with the caretaker government if she is released.”

During these unofficial negotiations with the two leaders, representatives of the authorities placed a package of proposals and conditions before them. But they did not agree to the conditions, saying they want unconditional release, according to sources.

The proposals include signing the national charter as mentioned by the chief adviser, continuing the anti-corruption drive and ousting corrupt people from parties, keeping a balance of power between the president and prime minister and ratifying the caretaker government’s activities, the sources said.

When contacted, counsel for Hasina said the AL chief had told him about talks with government officials, and mentioned that she had already said release on parole to represent the party at the dialogue was not acceptable to her.

Unnamed sources said both leaders have agreed to accept a few proposals.

A group of foreign diplomats are in close touch with the negotiation process, the newspaper said, quoting unnamed diplomatic sources.

The business community too has stepped in. A group met the chief advisor urging him that elections be held, irrespective of the failure or success of the political dialogue.

Ahmed assured them that the elections would take place as indicated in the third week of December, New Age newspaper said.

“We are concerned about the current political crisis because we fear that political stability and conditions for credible elections could be jeopardised,” said Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) president Annisul Huq at a post-dialogue joint news briefing at the Chief Adviser’s Office.

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