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Heathrow drama grounds Hasina

April 22: If power is at stake in the subcontinent, there must be a plane in the plot.

Sheikh Hasina, the former Prime Minister of Bangladesh, was prevented today from boarding a British Airways flight home from London on the advice of the military-backed government in Dhaka.

The clampdown came a few hours after a Dhaka court issued an arrest warrant against Hasina, who faces charges of murder linked to street battles.

The court labelled her an “absconder” and ordered police to confiscate her property if she did not surrender by May 28. The United News of Bangladesh reported that Hasina is now listed as a “fugitive”.

The court order came in the middle of efforts by the interim government to force Hasina and her rival Khaleda Zia into exile.

The government, which has taken several steps lauded by India, hopes that keeping the two leaders away would bridge the bitter division between their political camps that has derailed Bangladesh’s fragile democracy.

The scene of action shifted to Heathrow when Hasina and her aides tried to board the flight to Dhaka.

British Airways refused to issue Hasina a boarding pass, saying the UK government had advised the airline that she has been banned from returning to Bangladesh, Hasina said in London. It could not be confirmed independently whether the UK government played any role.

“I have all the right to go back because they (the Bangladesh government) have filed cases against me and I have all the right to face the charges. They can’t stop me from going back,” Hasina said.

One of Hasina’s aides told PTI that when she went to the airlines counter to check in this afternoon, “she was called into a special chamber and an officer from British Airways told her that ‘you are not allowed to go back”’.

The former Prime Minister claimed that the Bangladesh government had threatened to deny landing permission if she was on board.

The allegation carried echoes of a mid-air drama involving Pervez Musharraf on the day the general staged the coup against Nawaz Sharif in 1999. A plane ferrying Musharraf from Colombo was not allowed to touch down in Karachi, forcing it to circle the airport on low fuel until the army took control and ensured safe landing.

Another Hasina aide, Abdus Sobhan Golap, said Hasina argued for an hour and a half with the airline’s officials who showed her documents issued by Bangladesh.

“They said there were other passengers on the plane and it was going to be very insecure for her,” Golap said. “They said it was better not to fly.”

British Airways said in a statement that it — along with other airlines — had been notified by the civil aviation authority in Bangladesh that a passenger had been banned from entering the country. “As a result, we’re not able to accept them for travel on BA,” it said.

In Dhaka, Hasina’s Awami League party said it would move court against the ban.

Separately, supporters of Zia filed a writ petition in a Dhaka court challenging her apparent confinement at home. The court asked the interim government to explain in the next five days why Zia’s apparent confinement should not be declared illegal.

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