Khaleda agrees to quit Bangladesh, Hasina already in US
Apr 17, 2007 - 12:06:34 PM

Dhaka, April 17 - Former Bangladesh prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia has agreed to fly out of the country following a reported 'deal' with the government late Monday night.

With archrival former prime minister Sheikh Hasina, who has been charged with murder by the caretaker government, currently in Florida, the country would be without its two principal political leaders for the first time.

Zia'a second son Arafat Rahman, held for a day and released late Monday after the deal was agreed to, may fly out with her.

'She will be leaving the country for Saudi Arabia in a couple of days. Initially, she will be leaving with a one-month visa to perform umrah and her permanent residence there will be finalised upon reaching the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,' The Daily Star newspaper quoted an unnamed source as saying.

'Everything has been only the formalities including getting a visa remain to be completed, which might be completed in a day,' the source added.

The authorities appeared to be using Arafat's detention as a means of pressuring Zia. Arafat was not shown arrested officially because a process was on to persuade her to leave the country.

'She was determined not to leave the country, but finally agreed when her family members including her younger brother Major - Syeed Iskandar persuaded her to agree to leave yesterday evening.'

Zia's elder son Tareq Rahman, now in jail on charge of extortion, may join the family later.

The proceedings against him, both at the investigation level and in court, may take time to complete, reports said.

Zia agreed to leave the country 'under tremendous pressure from the military backed caretaker government and on condition that her sons will also be allowed to join her', the newspaper said.

Another highly placed source said the Saudi government agreed to play host to Zia and her family if she leaves Bangladesh willingly. 'The message was conveyed to the Saudi government through its embassy in Dhaka that she agreed to leave the country,' he added.

Initially, she will be staying in a government house in Saudi Arabia and later be provided with proper accommodation so she can live there with her two sons, their wives, and her three grandchildren.

The 'highly placed source' confirmed that Awami League president Sheikh Hasina, who is now on a private visit to the US, will not be allowed to return home. She was expected to come home later this month, probably April 25 or 26, but political observers said the picture about her return was now hazy.

The government of Chief Advisor Fakhruddin Ahmed has denied that it is forcing the former prime ministers to quit the country. M.A. Matin, one of his advisors, had said last week that the government had 'no such plans' and did not mean to 'harass' the two women leaders.

Hasina had last week vehemently protested slapping of charge of extortion and then of murder and threatened to return home and 'face the consequences'. But Matin spoke to her, prompting her to stay on in the US.

While charges against Hasina are serious, it is Zia as the immediate past prime minister and her Bangladesh Nationalist Party - who have been at the receiving end of the government's drive against crime, corruption and extremism.

Zia was to have gone to Saudi Arabia to perform umrah on April 10. But she called off her visit following political developments.

In the days leading up to Bangladesh's liberation struggle, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, elected with a thumping majority in 1970, was arrested and flown to then West Pakistan as security forces of Pakistan dictator Yahya Khan cracked down on the civilian populace.

The developments led to the separation of Pakistan's east-wing and the emergence of an independent Bangladesh in 1971.

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