Dhaka, April 25 (AP): Bangladesh’s interim government said today it has lifted a ban on the return of former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina from overseas, and was not pressuring another former leader, Begum Khaleda Zia, to go into exile.
The military-backed government had barred Hasina from returning in an order issued April 18. She was blocked on Sunday from boarding a flight in London en route home from the US.
Local media and intelligence sources had reported that Hasina’s arch-rival, Khaleda, was under virtual house arrest and was being forced to go into exile abroad.
The government denied the allegations today, saying: “There was never any pressure on Zia to go abroad, and there is no restriction on her movements.”
In a separate statement, the government said it was withdrawing the ban on Hasina’s return.
The interim government says it hopes to hold general elections before the end of next year. Media reports have said it wanted to remove Khaleda and her arch-rival, Hasina, to ease tensions before the polls.
A bitter feud between the two leaders ahead of scheduled elections in January led to deadly street protests, which forced the interim president to cancel the polls and declare a state of emergency.
“We welcome the government’s statement,” Mannan Bhuiyan, a spokesman for Khaleda’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party, told reporters in Dhaka. “This brings an end to all apprehension and speculation among the people.”
Hasina said in an interview from London with satellite television channel ATN Bangla that she would make arrangements to return home as soon as possible.
A Bangladesh court on Sunday gave the government five days to explain in writing whether Khaleda was under house arrest pending her reported departure for overseas.
Hasina’s lawyers had planned to move court tomorrow to challenge the ban on her return.
Hasina is also facing a charge of “abetting” the killings of four rival activists during a political riot in October. She has denied the charge, saying she is determined to return to defend herself.
On Monday, a Dhaka court suspended an arrest warrant for Hasina after police sought more time to investigate the murder charge.
Bangladesh’s central bank had asked all commercial banks to provide information on the accounts of the two former prime ministers as part of the government’s anti-corruption drive.
The interim government has arrested dozens of senior politicians and businesspeople accused of corruption and amassing illegal wealth.