Awami League, Bangladesh government hold talks, finally

July 4th, 2008 - 8:42 pm ICT by IANS  


Dhaka, July 4 (IANS) Bangladesh’s military-backed caretaker government and Awami League, the country’s largest political party, for the first time engaged in formal talks that were conciliatory, but both sides kept options open on key issues. The two-hour meeting on Thursday was inconclusive and more rounds would follow, ostensibly to allow both sides to consider the timing and extent of lifting curbs on political activity and prepare for the December elections.

One of the issues raised by the AL, media reports said Friday, was permanent bail for the party chief and former prime minister Sheikh Hasina who is on parole and in the US, undergoing medical treatment.

The government did not give a clear reply, since she is on trial on graft charges and the matter is before courts, New Age newspaper said.

The 21st round of the political dialogue had the government side headed by Chief Adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed, who is performing prime ministerial functions in the interim government.

This, political analysts said, was ostensibly in view of fact that AL, also the country’s oldest party, had attended Ahmed’s swearing-in ceremony in January last year and had welcomed the government formation.

The party turned against the government only after Hasina was sought to be kept out of the country in April last year and when she returned home, had graft charges slapped upon her and was jailed last July.

The differences were narrowed at the Thursday talks, but they persisted, both sides said later.

“We have still many things for discussion; we hope to go to elections ending phases of discussion,” Syed Ashraful Islam, acting general secretary of the party, told a joint press briefing after the formal dialogue Thursday.

Awami League’s acting president Zillur Rahman led a nine-member delegation to the two-hour meeting, where the party discussed many points and raised a number of demands, according to sources.

Consensus on political activities without hurting the national economy, post-election stability and institutional and constitutional reforms are three major areas to be covered in the next round of talks with AL, said Commerce and Education Adviser Hossain Zillur Rahman, a key player in the dialogue process.

The issues are closely linked to bringing about qualitative changes in politics and governance - the main pledge the interim government had made when it took office in January last year - he explained.

General elections were called off amidst weeks of political turmoil in January last year.

However, President Iajuddin Ahmed, considering the worsening political situation in the country, declared a national emergency and appointed the present caretaker government.

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