Foreign medical aid for Hasina, Zia, if they join talks

June 8th, 2008 - 1:49 pm ICT by IANS  

Dhaka, June 8 (IANS) Bangladesh’s detained former prime ministers Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia can go abroad for medical treatment by this month-end, but the government reportedly wants them to join a dialogue to prepare for the December elections. In the political tug-of-war that is underway, the two leaders facing trial on corruption charges have said they will not leave the jail and the country unless released unconditionally.

Media reports Sunday indicated that they are making no commitment about joining the talks the military-backed interim government is holding currently.

Three government-appointed medical boards examined Hasina, Zia and her younger son Arafat Rahman Koko, and recommended that they needed “better treatment”.

Submitting their reports Saturday, they left to the government the prickly issue whether they needed to be sent abroad.

The government said it would form a medical board to examine Zia’s elder, politician-son Tarique Rahman as well.

While it is difficult to release under-trial VIP politicians unconditionally, the government continues to show the olive branch, as it is under domestic and international pressure to hold the dialogue and the elections by the year-end, political analysts said.

According to them, one option the government has is to send them on parole, The Daily Star said Sunday.

Put in special jails for many months, Hasina, 61 and Zia, 62, are known to suffer from various ailments and have complained of poor medical facilities extended to them by Dhaka’s prison administration that is woefully short of doctors and nurses.

While Hasina, who collapsed in the courtroom more than once, formally wrote to the government to be allowed to go to the US, Zia has made no such request.

While Hasina has fluctuating blood pressure, an ailment and an ear damaged during a bomb attack on her in 2004, Zia is known to suffer from arthritis.

Hasina and Zia lead Bangladesh’s mainstream parties, Awami League (AL) and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), that have kept away from the political dialogue and have threatened mass agitation.

“Sheikh Hasina should be sent abroad (for treatment) only after unconditional release,” said Syed Ashraful Islam, AL’s acting general secretary.

On the other hand, BNP chairperson’s adviser Brig Gen (retd) Hannan Shah said Zia has no intention to go abroad for treatment under the reported “conditional arrangement”, The Daily Star reported.

Behind the face-off over freedom from jail and medical treatment is the speculation that the government wants to keep Hasina and Zia either in prison and tied down with litigation, or abroad, to keep them out of the December polls.

Media reports and political analysts have called it the “formula of politics minus-two”.

There is a history to the ‘formula.’

In April last year, the caretaker government sought to bar Hasina from returning from the US. The British Airways that was to fly her home from London was told not to take her on board. The airline, having large business in Bangladesh, complied, although she had all documents and boarding pass.

Hasina could return home only after a week-long campaign among the British parliamentarians and human rights bodies.

Simultaneously, Zia was told that she could leave for Saudi Arabia with most of her family members. She agreed initially, then prevaricated and conveyed her lack of willingness to the Saudi royalty and finally backed out.

After the ‘formula’ failure, the government involved the two women leaders in corruption cases, adding their names in the police complaints and detained them.

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