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Khaleda ‘house arrest’ eased

- BNP leader allowed to leave home after two-week detention

Dhaka, Jan. 11 (Agencies): Bangladesh authorities today allowed Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia to leave her home to attend a meeting.

Her staff said this was the first relaxation of a “virtual house arrest” that has lasted more than two weeks.

Supporters say Khaleda had been prevented from leaving her residence before and after a violence-plagued parliamentary election won by the ruling Awami League. The outcome was never in doubt after a boycott by the BNP.

But a spokesman for the BNP told reporters that Khaleda left her home for a meeting with the Chinese ambassador, Lee Jung, at her office in the city today. Khaleda, also head of the BNP-led 18-party Opposition alliance, last visited her office on December 27. Security forces were deployed around her residence from December 25.

Osman Farruk, a senior BNP leader told Reuters that until the government freed other party officials and stopped arrests and harassment “we cannot say it is a positive step”.

The government has denied holding the BNP leader under “house arrest”. But Mashiur Rahman, an adviser to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, said today that Khaleda had been prevented from leaving her residence because she had called on activists to carry out violence to resist the election. “Since the election has been over now she has every right to go on with healthy political activities,” Rahman added.

Tomorrow a new cabinet will be sworn in at a ceremony to which Khaleda is also invited, cabinet secretary Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan told reporters.

Eighteen people were killed in separate incidents on election day last Sunday, and voting was halted at more than 400 polling stations. More than 100 people were killed in the run-up to the ballot, mostly in rural areas, and fears of violence kept many voters away.

There was a low turnout, and fewer than half of seats were contested amid heavy security in a poll shunned by international observers as flawed.

The country’s $22 billion garment industry, which accounts for 80 per cent of exports, has been disrupted by Opposition transport blockades. BNP officials said party supporters would maintain the blockade tomorrow.

Ershad takes oath

Former Bangladeshi military ruler H.M. Ershad, whose Jatiya Party is a key ally of the ruling Awami League, today took oath as a lawmaker despite his earlier decision to boycott the general election.

His earlier decision had triggered speculation that Ershad might not serve as a lawmaker despite his election from a seat in Rangpur and his wife Raushan may head the party in parliament.

Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury administered the oath to the 83-year-old Jatiya Party chairman just past midday. Ershad has flip-flopped before the January 5 polls, first agreeing to contest them and then saying he was boycotting them a day after submitting his nomination papers. In a dramatic episode before the polls, he was brought to the military hospital for “treatment”.

Ershad has been in the military hospital since December 12. The Election Commission had declined to accept his plea, sent from hospital, to withdraw his candidature.

The Jatiya Party won 33 seats, 20 without any contest, in the polls boycotted by the BNP-led alliance. Ershad today avoided the media after he was sworn in, two days after his party MPs took oath under Raushan’s leadership.

Witnesses said he entered parliament through a route used by the President, Prime Minister and deputy leader of the House.

No Jatiya Party leader was seen with Ershad as he came out of the hospital.

 
 
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