Hasina returning home soon, Zia to go for 'umra' later
Apr 26, 2007 - 12:34:25 PM

Dhaka, April 26 - With the ban on their movements lifted, Bangladesh's two former prime ministers are free to pursue their respective political courses, albeit within the curbs imposed by the military-backed regime under the national emergency.

While an elated Awami League Sheikh Hasina said she was returning home from London as soon as possible, Bangladesh Nationalist Party's - Khaleda Zia, who was being sent to Saudi Arabia, is not leaving the country immediately.

She has told the Saudi Arabian embassy here that she would be in Jeddah to perform umra at a time of her choosing.

Law Adviser Mainul Hosein told reporters last night, 'It does not really matter to this government whether they [Khaleda and Hasina] are in the country or not.'

But he added: 'If there are allegations of corruption against them, they will be prosecuted.'

Leaders of both major parties hailed the government's decision. Awami League's Abdul Jalil called it 'a victory of democracy and constitution'.

Calling the government's move of Wednesday night 'a dramatic reversal', The Daily Star said in an editorial: '... it is the fundamental right of the two leaders to live in their own country. Exile holds no answer to the political problems facing us. On the contrary, it can exacerbate them.'

It said that the government 'enmeshed in a nontransparent, shortsighted, confusing, and boomerang of a policy exercise pertaining to consigning of the two political leaders - Sheikh Hasina and Begum Khaleda Zia - to exile'.

While their respective parties and the media were ecstatic about the government's decision, the two women leaders, who have dominated the country's political scene since 1981, were circumspect in their reactions.

Hasina told a TV channel in London that she had 'much' to say about an official ban thanks to which the British Airways refused to fly her home last Sunday, but she would prefer to return home 'where people are enthusiastically waiting for me'.

Chief Advisor Fakhruddin Ahmed's government denied having made any moves to exile the two women leaders and attributed it to media speculation. However, New Age, among others, noted that the government had taken 'two full weeks' to clarify its stand.

Media and political circles had been speculating even earlier of the government's plans, dubbed 'Minus Two' - of promoting the country 'minus' the two leaders.

It became apparent when the government mounted pressures on Zia, asking her to enter into a 'deal' and leave for Saudi Arabia, and actually prevented Hasina's return from London.

The government worked overtime to procure visas for Zia and her family members, even as the former prime minister played for time asking for various conditions and facilities.

Her family members and party members let it be known, particularly to the Saudi government through influential Bangladeshi visitors, that she was being made to leave against her will.

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