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Khaleda arrested for graft

Dhaka, Sept. 3 (AP): Police in Bangladesh arrested former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and one of her sons today on charges of corruption and misuse of power, officials said.

The military-backed government cancelled elections earlier this year after months of politically motivated violence, and today’s arrest appeared to be the latest in a series of moves by authorities to undermine the country’s political elite, a group widely viewed as deeply corrupt.

Zia told a Dhaka court that she and her son are innocent. But she was jailed pending trial and her son, Arafat Rahman, was ordered held by police for seven days for questioning.

“This is a conspiracy to tarnish the image of my family and my party,” Zia said. “We have done nothing wrong. This case against us must be lifted.”

From the court, Zia, escorted by hundreds of police, was taken to a makeshift prison near the parliament building. Her prison is just a few blocks from where her archrival and another former Premier, Sheikh Hasina, has been held since July on extortion charges.

The officials arrested Zia from her home in Dhaka hours after a case was filed by an anti-corruption official against her and her youngest son, Arafat Rahman Coco, Dhaka police official Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman said by phone.

Zia, who ended her five-year term in October, is accused of misusing her power by awarding contracts to a local company, Global Agro Trade Company, when she was in office in 2003. Coco allegedly influenced his mother to approve the deal.

The complaint said Zia’s administration did not follow standard procedure in awarding the company work involving two cargo terminals, one in Dhaka’s Kamlapur Railway Station and another in the country’s main Chittagong seaport.

Officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Zia’s elder son, Tarique Rahman, was arrested on charges of extortion in March. Rahman, a senior leader of Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party, is now in jail awaiting trial.

A case was filed separately late yesterday against Hasina on charges of taking a bribe in return to allow a company to build a power plant when she was in power in 1997, a police official said.

Hasina, a bitter rival of Zia, is accused of taking $435,000 from the Khulna Power Company Ltd. to approve the project, Dhaka police official Jane Alam said. She and her Awami League party denied the allegation. She faces three other charges of extortion and has been in jail awaiting trial since July 16.

Bangladesh has been ruled since mid-January by an interim government installed by the military after 30 people were killed in political clashes following the end of Zia’s term. National elections planned for January 22 were cancelled. A state of emergency is in force in the South Asian nation, barring all political gatherings.

The government, led by a former central bank governor, has vowed to fight corruption, reform electoral rules and clean up the nation’s factional and often violent politics before holding the next elections.

Zia and Hasina have dominated Bangladesh’s politics since their joint campaign ended years of military rule and restored democracy to their impoverished nation in 1990. The two women head the country’s two biggest parties and their supporters — many of them jailed on corruption charges — have frequently engaged in deadly street clashes, undermining the country’s stability.

Some analysts see their arrests as politically motivated.

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