Rulers take hard line as election nears
Wednesday, 08 October 2008

Agency

Hopes for a smooth run-up to  December election hit new snags after a court issued warrants for several former ministers and asked them and ex-prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia to appear at a hearing next week.

They have been asked to appear in court on Oct. 12 for trial over a coal mine case in which Khaleda and a dozen of her ex-ministers and officials are accused of illegally making millions of dollars.
 
They all deny the charges, which Khaleda and her supporters say are politically motivated, but the court appeared firm on pursuing the case, reflecting what analysts said was the military-backed interim government's vow to let the law take its course.
 
"The charges against Khaleda Zia and other leaders of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) have been submitted (by the Anti-Corruption Commission) with an ulterior motive to keep them away from the election," BNP secretary-general Khandaker Delwar Hossain told reporters late on Monday.
 
The BNP also said the election commission had placed impossible conditions on parties wanting to contest the Dec 18 elections.
 
The commission has said parties need to submit new draft constitutions to be able to enter the race and must formally ratify them within six months of parliament's first session.
 
"This is impossible given the short period of time and in absence of party conventions," said BNP's senior leader, Nazrul Islam Khan, citing a ban on political gatherings.
 
"They must relax conditions further, otherwise we may not register," he told reporters on Tuesday.
 
Earlier, the High Court refused to grant another former prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, now on a medical parole in the United States, bail on charges of corruption.
 
Instead, it asked authorities not to arrest or harass Hasina on her return, expected by Oct. 20.
 
Hasina's lawyers said the court's decision would at least keep Hasina from an immediate arrest after she comes back to Dhaka, but her Awami League party was unhappy about the move.
 
The BNP and Awami League fear detention and legal battles could prevent the two ex-prime ministers from contesting in the December election.
 
The parties are protesting the legal actions and say they will stay away from the polls if they do not include Khaleda and Hasina, who alternated as the impoverished Muslim-majority country's prime minister over 15 years until 2006.
 
Despite charges of graft and abuse of power against the two bitter rivals, they are still popular with many Bangladeshis, who expect one or the other to regain power in December if they compete. Independent analysts and diplomats say the election would not be fair and credible without the BNP and Awami League, the country's biggest parties, as well as other major parties.
 
The European Union said it might not send election monitors to the December polls unless the state of emergency in force since January 2007 is ended, but the United Nations plans to go ahead.

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