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Ershad faces Jan. 17 deadline

Dhaka, Jan. 5 (Reuters): Bangladesh’s former army ruler Hossain Mohammad Ershad, banned from contesting elections on corruption charges, has been ordered to surrender to a Dhaka court by January 17, legal officials said today.

The deadline was set yesterday by the Dhaka district and session judge’s court, just days after Ershad’s Jatiya Party announced a boycott of the January 22 elections. “Now Ershad must give himself up in the court, from where most likely he will go to jail,” a court official said today.

On December 14, the supreme court confirmed a two-year jail sentence, given earlier by a lower court, against Ershad for squandering state funds in a deal to buy patrol boats from Japan while he was in power from 1982 to 1990.

The sentence automatically banned him from contesting the coming elections, but Ershad still filed nomination papers to the election commission to enter the ballot. The commission again rejected his nominations on legal grounds.

Party officials said they could not participate in the parliamentary elections without their chairman in the race.

Former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s multi-party alliance and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of former President A.Q.M. Badroddoza Chowdhury have also pulled out of the ballot, adding to the uncertainty which has already brought weeks of political violence and crippling strikes.

Party officials said an interim government in charge of steering the country through elections had failed to act neutrally or implement electoral reforms to make the vote free and fair. Hasina, who was seen as a key contender in the poll until she withdrew on Wednesday, has asked for Ershad’s jail sentence to be repealed to allow him to participate in the polls.

Her Awami League, which leads the 14-party alliance, the Jatiya Party and LDP accuse President Iajuddin Ahmed, head of the interim administration, of favouring their rivals — the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of Begum Khaleda Zia and its ally Jamaat-e-Islami. They have demanded Iajuddin step down as caretaker chief and called for a two-day transport blockade from Sunday.

US regret

The US embassy in Dhaka today said it regretted the decision of the Hasina-led alliance to boycott the elections and urged them to “reconsider (their stance).”

“The process as it is unfolding certainly shows many imperfections,” an embassy statement said. “We urge the caretaker government and the election commission to act swiftly and impartially to create conditions under which all parties can participate.”

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