|Millions sign petition for release of Hasina|
|Tuesday, 29 April 2008|
The Bangladesh Awami League submitted a petition on Monday signed by 2.5 million people to the office of the head of the interim government seeking the release of detained former prime minister Sheikh Hasina.
Awami officials said they collected the signatures, mostly of her followers and supporters in the capital Dhaka, over the last few weeks to pressure the army-backed authority to set her free.
Hasina has been detained in a makeshift jail inside the parliament compound in Dhaka since her arrest in July 2007 on alleged charges of corruption.
Hasina, who ruled Bangladesh from 1996 to 2001, denied the charges, saying they were false and motivated, and designed to destroy her political career.
Officials at the office of government head Fakhruddin Ahmed received the petition, along with bundles of papers with the signatures of Hasina supporters, television showed.
Acting Awami League chief Zillur Rahman earlier said the party would collect more signatures countrywide to achieve the freedom of Hasina, who has been suffering from erratic blood pressure as well as ear and eye ailments.
Her doctors have advised her to get treatment abroad, preferably in the United States where she had been treated earlier for a hearing impairment, caused by grenade blasts at a Dhaka rally in August, 2004.
Fakhruddin's government has yet to agree to that advice. Hasina has been treated in a Dhaka hospital, but was taken several times in recent months to hear charges in court, where she fell sick on the dock before being removed sent back to jail. Hasina's lawyers told reporters on Sunday after her latest court appearance that the former premier had told the court she would not quit politics or the party's leadership under pressure from any quarter.
The government has denied putting pressure on Hasina or her rival, former prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia, who is also being detained for alleged corruption. "There is no one but myself to decide if I would remain in politics or as the head of the party," one of her attorneys quoted her as saying on Sunday.
The Awami League and Khaleda's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) accuse the government of seeking to bar the two former premiers from elections due to be held by the end of the year. "They are being held as part of a blueprint to keep them from contesting the coming polls.
But Awami League will not participate in any election without Hasina," senior Awami leader Suranjit Sengupta said. The BNP, virtually divided in Khaleda's absence, says it is awaiting her directives about the polls.
The two women, who alternated as prime minister of the impoverished country for 15 years to October 2006, were detained in a massive crackdown on corruption, launched by the interim government that took charge in January last year.
Around 170 other key political figures have also been detained and nearly 40 of them been convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.
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