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New chief in place, Hasina relents

Dhaka, Jan. 12 (Agencies): The Awami League-led Opposition alliance today announced the withdrawal of proposed street protests to ensure free and fair polls soon after the Bangladesh President named a new interim administration chief and lifted a night curfew, a day after imposing a state of emergency.

The steps taken by President Iajuddin Ahmed were seen as a much-needed bid to reach out to political groups opposed to him and halt violence that has caused chaos in the country for nearly three months.

Iajuddin resigned late yesterday as the head of an interim administration charged with holding elections. He hoped the decision would end the violence, in which at least 45 people have been killed.

Today, Iajuddin named former Central Bank governor Fakhruddin Ahmed to succeed him.

Iajuddin administered the oath of office to Ahmed, a 66-year-old Princeton-educated former World Bank employee widely seen as a politically neutral figure, at a simple ceremony at the presidential palace. Former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and leaders of her multi-party alliance attended the ceremony.

But Hasina’s rival, Begum Khaleda Zia, the previous Prime Minister and chief of Bangladesh Nationalist party (BNP), was absent.

Immediately after the swearing in, the alliance of 17 parties — which had said it would boycott general elections if they were held under the supervision of Iajuddin — announced it would not go ahead with nation-wide street protests to press for polls under a neutral administration.

The caretaker government also agreed to the alliance’s two other demands — that a correct voter list would be prepared and elections would be postponed.

Iajuddin’s decision appeared to calm Dhaka which, along with most other parts of the country, has been beset by months of protests and strikes.

Armed troops patrolled city streets but witnesses reported no trouble. “There will be no night-time curfew from today, but the state of emergency will continue,” a Dhaka police officer said.

The government has also lifted controls on the media, requesting “not to write anything provocative”.

Soldiers arrested Awami League leader Kamal Ahmed Majumder from his Dhaka home in a pre-dawn raid today.

But despite the arrest, much of Bangladesh was calm. Shops opened and cars filled the streets of this crowded capital and by late this morning, life appeared largely normal across the country.

“We welcome the President’s decision,” said S.M. Fazlul Hoque, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association. “Our stand is for democracy, we want the decision to help restore normalcy for a free and fair election.”

The Election Commission said it has stopped all activities linked to polls and would wait for the new interim government. No new date for polls has been set, but there was speculation that they would be held in three to six months.

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