Khaleda to quit Bangladesh, Hasina already in US
Apr 17, 2007 - 8:28:39 PM

Dhaka, April 17 - The civil-military bureaucracy is set to tighten its grip further over Bangladesh as former prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia prepared to go into exile on Tuesday amidst indications that her rival Sheikh Hasina may not be allowed to return from the United States.

Media reports said Zia, the immediate past prime minister, may fly to Jeddah in the next one or two days, taking with her most of her family members, following a reported 'deal' with the government late Monday night.

Reports quoted unnamed officials saying that Hasina, who has been charged with murder by the caretaker government, currently in Florida, may not be allowed to return.

The country would be without its two principal political leaders for the first time - a situation that political analysts alluded, was akin to Pakistan, whose two former premiers, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, have been in exile since 1999.

But while Pakistan is likely to have elections later this year, Bangladesh's Chief Advisor Fakhruddin Ahmed, who performs prime ministerial functions in an un-elected interim government, clearly said last Saturday that elections would have to wait till end-2008.

This timetable, significantly, received full backing from the US. American envoy Patricia A. Butenis met Ahmed Monday afternoon to express 'satisfaction' at the latter's performance and 'actions', even as Ahmed's investigators were negotiating the 'deal' with Zia and her beleaguered family.

There are doubts, however, even about this timeframe. Weekly magazine Blitz, citing details of new rules for recognition of political parties and criteria for candidates, said that no election was likely for four years.

Although officially denied, security and police personnel appeared to be putting pressures on Zia, 61, by detaining her second son, Arafat Rahman. He was not shown arrested officially and was released past midnight Monday after the deal was agreed to.

'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.

'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.

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.

Hasina's reaction, if any, to developments in Dhaka was not known.

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 Communications Advisor, Major General - M A 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.

Bangladesh has had phases of military or military-backed rule since its emergence in 1971. The present regime is one of an elected president -, who has sworn an un-elected Chief Advisor and a Council of Advisor, all call themselves a Caretaker Government, that is more in the nature of an interim government.

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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