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President aides resign, Hasina doubts polls

Dhaka, Dec. 11: Four advisers of Bangladesh’s interim government resigned today in a surprise move likely to deepen the country’s political crisis threatening next month’s election, one of the advisers said.

“Yes, we sent our resignation letters to the President this morning,” women affairs adviser Sultana Kamal said. Akbar Ali Khan, Hasan Mashud Chowdhury and C.M. Shafi Sami also resigned, she said. The four are among 10 advisers President Iajuddin Ahmed appointed on October 31 after installing himself as the country’s interim leader.

Their decision came after media reports said that the four advisers objected to the deployment of the military late on Saturday to end street protests organised by the 14-party alliance over electoral reforms.

Sheikh Hasina, chief of the Awami League which has been leading a campaign for a free and fair poll, said it was doubtful whether elections would be held as scheduled on January 23, following the resignations of the government advisers.

“I also wonder whether we should participate in the election unless a completely free and congenial atmosphere is created ahead of the polls,” Hasina told supporters. Officials at the President’s office were not available for comment. The advisers said the President did not consult them before deploying the army.

Earlier, a top election official said the resignations would not further delay the polls, scheduled for January 23. “Definitely, the elections will be held on time,” acting chief election commissioner Mahfuzur Rahman said today.

Hasina’s alliance, which had objected against the deployment of the army in Dhaka, said they will hold protests across Bangladesh tomorrow despite the presence of soldiers. “We plan to hold peaceful protests across the country to press for reforms that will make the upcoming polls free and fair,” alliance spokesman Abdul Jalil said .

“Our protests are not against the military but against the partisan election officials who must go.” The alliance wants the removal of two poll commissioners who it accuses if bias toward former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.

More than 17,000 army, navy and air force troops were deployed in towns and cities to “assist the civil administration in maintaining law and order” across the country.

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