Feuding Bangladeshi leaders exchange first greetings in 18 years

November 22nd, 2008 - 1:47 am ICT by IANS  

Dhaka, Nov 22 (DPA) Former Bangladeshi prime ministers and arch political rivals Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia exchanged greetings Friday at a reception to honour the country’s military. It was their first face-to-face meeting in 18 years.Private television channels aired live footage of the two meeting at the Armed Forces Day reception in Senakunja in the Dhaka cantonment. They shook hands and exchanged small talk.

Hasina and Zia lead the country’s two major political parties - the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. They alternated rule for 15 years before the military took emergency powers in 2007. They have not been seen speaking to one another since 1990.

A meeting between the two former leaders had been much talked about over the last few months, especially ahead of December elections to end the army-backed emergency rule.

Many attempts to bring the two former prime ministers to the table to resolve major issues of the nation’s politics - sharply divided between the two parties - have failed in the past.

The two leaders, who were arrested by the army-led government and released after almost a year of detention, have expressed eagerness to hold a dialogue on national issues. Hasina wanted agenda-specific discussion while Zia preferred open-ended discussion without any pre-set agenda.

The two leaders last attended the same event in November 2006, but they did not speak. Their last recorded conversation occurred during the political transition surrounding the end of H.M. Ershad’s dictatorship.

The Armed Forces Day ceremony was attended by many national leaders. The day commemorates those who died in the country’s 1971 war for independence from Pakistan.

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