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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 81

Bangla opposition leader Hasina suspends agitation, trade off with President likely

By M Rama Rao - Reporting from India

New Delhi, 31 October ( In a new twist to the unfolding Bangladesh tale, the opposition on Monday gave a 4-day ultimatum to President Professor Iajuddin Ahmed to prove his neutrality in the run up to the elections amidst indications of atrade off that may see isolation of Khaleda Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led four- party alliance. The deadline expires on November 3.

A soil scientist by training, President Ahmed's credentials will be tested Tuesday itself when he will be naming ten advisors to run the 'caretaker' government.

Around 70 persons were injured as the activists of BNP and Awami League fought pitched battles across the country Monday, the third day of the 'Dhaka siege' programme.

Political observers and security analysts aver that the street violence may benefit Islamists particularly Jamaat-e-Islami as its ability to push Islamist agenda has grown considerably during the past five years.

To the relief of people, the Awami League led 14-party combine decided to suspend its 'Dhaka seize' programme till November 3 after Sheikh Hasina had an hour- long meeting with Iajuddin Ahmed and placed her 11-point charter of demands.

High on her charter is removal of Chief Election Commissioner M.A. Aziz and his deputies, accusing them of being biased towards Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

Second demand is removal of Attorney General, another BNP appointee, since he 'wrongly' advised President to be the interim prime minister.

"If the President failed to fulfil our demands, we would launch a greater movement to protect people's voting right," Hasina told a press conference after her meeting with Iajuddin Ahmed, who moved to the Presidential palace from the Dhaka University in September 2002.

The opposition views him as partisan as he was made President by the BNP regime "Our apprehension over the Chief Advisor is logical as he is a party-selected President. He will now have to prove that he is neutral and non-partisan," said Hasina, who had rejected outright when Iajuddin Ahmed proposed to be the caretaker prime minister as well after BNP led government term ended Friday.

Trade Off?

That some kind of trade off is possible between President Ahmed and Hasina became clear from two developments.

One the special security, which was withdrawn two days ago, was restored for Sheikh Hasina.

Second, Ahmed (71) asked her a list of names for appointment as advisors. "In replay, I told him (during their meeting) that after a consultation we would inform him about the names of the advisors."

Outgoing Prime Minister Khaleda Zia is still talking tough. In fact she is holding fresh warnings. Speaking at a huge rally in Dhaka, Khaleda said she had had enough of the opposition's demands. "The opposition will be dealt with a heavy hand if they try to disrupt the elections in the name of demands for electoral reforms".

Her elder son and BNP joint secretary-general Tareque Rahman said BNP and its supporters would take to the streets now "in full force" to counter Awami League -led protesters. He added: "We have been pushed to the end of our patience. Now we will act tit-for-tat in case anyone tries to take us on".

Advantage Islamists

Political observers in Dhaka say it is time the Awami League tried to cooperate with the president to help him ensure a credible election. 'It is time for looking forward ... The main concern now is how to hold a free and impartial election', a leading political thinker Debapriyo Bhattacharya, was quoted by The Daily Star as saying.

Samina Ahmed, South Asia project director of the International Crisis Group holds the view that the violence on the streets of Bangladesh is basically creating space for the extremists to exploit. The days leading to January's elections may be fraught with violence that could benefit Islamist parties, she says.

Jamaat-e-Islami's power to project an Islamist agenda has grown considerably under the BNP rule as it controlled several powerful ministries, as well as a host of welfare organizations, schools, and madrassahs. The party also owns a staggering array of businesses in banking, real estate, and other services.

Islamist groups like Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh's largest religious party, have stepped in where the government has failed, providing basic services such as water and sanitation to millions of citizens who would otherwise be ignored, according to a Christian Science Monitor report, a view India shares.

Indian Concern

External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said the government was keeping a close watch on the developments in Bangladesh. "There are new developments in the neighbouring country. We are keeping a close watch on the happenings. The Prime Minister and I are taking stock of the situation", Mr Mukherjee said at Mirzapur in West Bengal. Mirzapur is close to the Bangladesh border.

-Asian Tribune -

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