Dhaka under pressure on Hasina, Zia exile issue
Apr 24, 2007 - 12:50:46 PM

Dhaka, April 24 - The Bangladesh government's plans to exile former prime ministers Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia appear to have run into trouble with court orders, political and diplomatic pressures and international criticism, particularly from the US.

Although it succeeded in barring the homecoming of Sheikh Hasina Monday, the military-backed regime is facing queries from the British government. The Awami League leader has launched a media offensive in London.

US Under Secretary for State Nicholas R. Burns said: 'The interim government in Bangladesh has become occupied with unnecessary issues although its prime business is holding free and fair elections... It is unacceptable to the international community.'

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett also raised the issue of Hasina's return to the country at her recent meeting with the foreign affairs adviser, Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, said a British diplomat in Dhaka.

New Age newspaper quoted a source that claimed that the 'top diplomat of an influential Western country in Dhaka has initiated a move so that powerful quarters in the government revise their plan to send Khaleda - and the Awami League president Sheikh Hasina into exile'.

It did not cite either the source or the top diplomat.

The newspaper said Zia, who had agreed to leave for Jeddah under a 'deal', has apparently backed out and is pitching in to stay on to be with her family that is facing persecution.

The Dhaka High Court took cognisance of a habeas corpus petition filed on Zia's brief and asked the government to explain in writing if she has been confined to her home. The notice would be heard Friday, delaying the government's plans.

Saudi Arabia has also not issued visas for Zia and her family. The embassy was in two minds as it is not convinced that Khaleda, who visits the kingdom almost every year, would be making her next trip out of her own free will.

The sources have told New Age that the embassy has indicated to the government that Khaleda's visa will only be issued if she appears at the embassy in person.

Zia's sympathisers in Saudi Arabia have mounted efforts to convince the Saudis that she is being pressurised to quit the country. Riyadh has asked its embassy in Dhaka to find the facts and report back.

Monday saw a magistrate court that issued a warrant of arrest against Hasina in a murder case on Sunday staying the same order within 24 hours as the government - feeling the pressure of a potential international outcry - decided to conduct further investigation.

Amidst hectic activity at the courts and in diplomatic corridors, the interim government itself seemed to be in rather reconciliatory mood Monday, media reports said.

Election Commissioner M. Sakhawat Hossain said the government might lift the ban on indoor politics by May 8 and the Commission would soon sit with major parties to discuss electoral reforms.

'Different quarters have indicated that the ban on indoor politics will be withdrawn by May 8,' Hossain told reporters.

All political activities were banned after the declaration of the state of emergency Jan 11.

Leading intellectuals have also issued a statement expressing concern over the recent political developments and urged the interim administration to reconsider its decisions.

'The ban on the return to the country of the leader of a major political party does not indicate foresightedness. At the same time, forcing the leader of another major political party to leave the country is more a demonstration of power rather than being prudent,' reads the statement.

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