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Hasina sent to jail in pre-dawn swoop

July 16 (AP): Police arrested former Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina today on charges of extorting over Taka 2.99 crore (around Rs 1.8 crores) from a Bangladeshi businessman, and she was ordered jailed pending trial.

The pre-dawn arrest triggered angry protests in many parts of Dhaka with activists clashing with the police.

Hasina was arrested from her Sudhasadan residence in Dhaka’s Dhanmondi area. A huge convoy of security vehicles then escorted a police jeep carrying Hasina to a metropolitan magistrate’s court in Dhaka shortly after 7.30 am.

The magistrate denied her bail and ordered her into jail ahead of the trial, defence lawyer Abdul Matin Khasru said at the court.

Hasina was driven from the court under tight security to the parliament complex where the residence of the deputy speaker has been converted into a “sub jail” for special detainees.

The police later searched Hasina’s home, seized her bullet-proof vehicle, two computers and various documents relating to her bank accounts and party publications.

On June 13, 2006, Azam J. Chowdhury, managing director of Eastcoast Trading Private Ltd, filed a case against Hasina and Awami League leader Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim for extorting over Taka 2.99 crore from him.

Three other extortion cases have been separately filed against Hasina by businessmen operating in the power sector. She has also been charged with the murder of four persons who died during protests organised by her party Awami League.

Hasina denied the allegations, saying they were aimed at keeping her from contesting the next elections.

She arrived at the court dressed in a white sari and escorted by hundreds of security personnel.

“It’s a conspiracy to stop me from speaking for the rights of the people. I’ve done nothing wrong,” Hasina told the court jammed with lawyers and journalists. The interim government denied there was any conspiracy.

Witnesses said Hasina supporters clashed with the police in the capital and tried to stop a motorcade taking her to jail.

The police used batons and rubber bullets to drive away the protesters, who were chanting: “Release Hasina, release Hasina”. At least eight protesters were injured, the witnesses said.

Soon after her arrest, Hasin’a husband, nuclear physicist Wazed Ali, was rushed to hospital with cardiac problems. Local media quoted family sources as saying he was being treated at a city hospital.

The head of Bangladesh’s army-backed interim government, Fakhruddin Ahmed, said after the arrest that no one in the country was above law. “Anyone involved in corruption will be tracked down and prosecuted,” he said during a visit to a district outside the capital.

“She has been arrested on ... charges of extortion and the law will take its own course,” Mainul Husein, an adviser to the interim government and head of the law and information ministries, said.

Hasina’s son said his mother's detention was a conspiracy to remove her from politics.

“I have spoken to my mother. She told me about the police action... it’s part of a deep-rooted conspiracy,” Sajeeb Wazed Joy said by telephone from the US, where he lives.

Former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia also faces charges of extortion and abuse of power.

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