|A member of Bangladeshi Rapid Action Battalion waves a red flag to stop vehicles for checking in Dhaka on Sunday, while (below) Opposition Awami League protesters march with sticks in Tongi, on the outskirts of Dhaka. (AP)
Dhaka, Oct. 29 (AP) - President Iajuddin Ahmed was Sunday sworn in as head of a caretaker government that will oversee
Bangladesh until general elections next year, moving to resolve a political crisis that has left at least 27 people dead in more than two days of violent rioting.
Ahmed takes over from outgoing Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, whose government completed its five-year term on Friday and was constitutionally required to transfer power to an interim administration before elections, due January.
“There was no alternative, but to take charge to end the chaos,” Ahmed said in his first televised address to the nation after the swearing in.
He promised to hold new elections on time, and urged cooperation from all parties.
Opposition leader Sheikh Hasina gave a lukewarm welcome to Ahmed’s appointment, and said her supporters would continue to protest for electoral reforms.
“We neither welcome the new caretaker government nor reject it. The President should have appointed another person as the head of the caretaker government instead of himself taking over the charge,” Hasina told reporters after an emergency meeting of her 14-party opposition alliance.
“We hope that the President will be neutral and impartial in conducting the next general election. We will keep him under watch,” she said.
Earlier, the opposition Awami League had denounced the move calling it a BNP conspiracy. “I can smell a conspiracy in the attempts to put the country’s President in charge of the interim government,” Hasina said.
Today, the opposition alliance rejected Ahmed’s offer to head the interim government after a former chief justice, K.M. Hasan, declined the post in the wake of deadly opposition-sponsored protests. Hasan had links with Zia’s party, and the opposition said he could not be impartial.
Even though Ahmed does not belong to any party, he was previously elected as a candidate of Zia’s party.
While Zia attended the swearing-in ceremony at the President’s office, her main rival, Hasina did not.
Hasina said she only received her invitation to the ceremony just minutes before it was to start.
She said she will not immediately call off the street protests. “We will continue with the protests to press for the electoral reforms.”
The Opposition also has been demanding removal of chief election commissioner M.A. Aziz and his three deputies, accusing them of bias in favour of Zia’s party. The officials deny the allegations.
The brief swearing-in ceremony was also attended by diplomats, politicians and senior officials.
Chief Justice Syed J.R. Mudassir Husain swore in Ahmed, who will continue to act as the titular President.
Ahmed earlier today held talks with leading politicians to try to defuse the crisis sparked by the choice of Hasan.
Days of widespread street rioting since late Friday have left at least 27 people dead and hundreds more injured, according to reports. Nine people were killed in violence across the country today, the United News of Bangladesh agency reported. At least 18 died on Friday and Saturday.
Dhaka’s streets were empty of traffic amid a curfew-like condition as hundreds of security forces fanned out across the city.