| Awami League chief Sheikh Hasina Wajed at a rally in Dhaka on Friday. (Reuters)
Dhaka, Nov. 3 (Reuters): Sheikh Hasina, leader of a 14-party alliance and a key contender for power in Bangladesh, said today that she would give the caretaker government another week to prove its neutrality and commitment to free and fair elections.
“As the government has sought more time to restructure the election commission and prune the administration, we are extending a November 3 deadline until November 11,” she told a huge rally in the capital.
“If it fails to do the job by the extended time, we will launch an indefinite blockade of highways and other protests from November 12 to achieve our demands.”
Violence during similar protests in late October killed at least 30 people and injured hundreds before President Iajuddin Ahmed took over the caretaker authority last Sunday. Under the constitution, the interim government must steer the country till the general elections due in January.
Earlier today, speculation rose that the disputed chief election commissioner might be replaced after advisers to the caretaker government held talks with Sheikh Hasina.
The advisers, C.M. Shafi Sami and Sultana Kamal, met Hasina, a former Prime Minister and head of the Awami League, at her Dhaka home last night.
“They came to convey a message from the head of the caretaker authority, President Iajuddin Ahmed, that the process of restructuring the election commission has begun,” Awami general secretary Abdul Jalil said after the meeting.
Hasina said the caretaker government had asked for more time to neutralise the administration and the election commission.
The Hasina-led alliance has been demanding the removal of chief election commissioner M.A. Aziz and his deputies, accusing them of bias towards the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which ruled the country until its mandate expired last week.
BNP secretary general Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan called on the two advisers to quit, saying they had lost their neutrality.
Commissioner Aziz said yesterday that he would consider stepping down if the caretaker government asked him to.
Former military ruler Hossain Mohammad Ershad, meanwhile, confirmed today that he would join a political alliance headed by former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia, the BNP chief.
“We have decided to join the alliance with her,” Ershad said after a meeting of his Jatiya Party.
Khaleda’s other key ally is the Jamaat-e-Islami party, which the Awami League and allies accuse of opposing Bangladesh’s 1971 independence from Pakistan.
Bangladesh yesterday rejected an international maritime bureau report that said the nation’s main Chittagong seaport is the world’s most dangerous for pirate attacks, an official said.
“It’s just bogus, it’s based on distorted information," A.M. Shahadat Hossain, chairman of the Chittagong Port Authority, said.