Sun, Nov 05, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Bangladeshi election chief refuses to resign

AFP , DHAKA

Bangladesh's chief election commissioner refused to quit yesterday despite pleas from the interim government that he resign to end an impasse jeopardizing next January's elections, an official said.

"The consensus among the advisors of the caretaker government is that the chief election commissioner should step down," said one of the government's 10-member advisory council.

"Two advisors have already met him with the message. But he seems to have stood firm to continue his job," the official said on condition of anonymity.

The advisor said under the constitution it was virtually impossible to remove the chief election commissioner M.A. Aziz against his will.

"If he does not step down on his own ... the caretaker government will have to think of how the commissioner can continue without it affecting the holding of free and fair elections," the advisor added.

Aziz, in charge of organizing the January's parliamentary elections, is accused by the 14-party opposition of being biased in favor of the Bangladesh National Party (BNP)-led government whose five-year mandate ended just over a week ago.

The main opposition party, the Awami League, alleges the commission has rigged voter lists and on Friday gave the caretaker government seven more days to remove him.

Violent protests suspended earlier this week by the opposition resulted in at least 24 dead and more than 2,000 injured.

The opposition has threatened more demonstrations if Aziz is not sacked and may also boycott the polls. The removal of Aziz is a key demand in the 11-point list submitted by the opposition.

"We have given you seven days during which we want to see that you implement all our 11 demands," Sheikh Hasina Wajed, leader of the Awami League party, told a rally attended by 100,000 supporters on Friday.

"If you fail to implement the people's demands within this deadline we will resume non-stop transport blockades and protests all over the country," she said.

The opposition had earlier set a deadline of Friday for the caretaker body headed by President Iajuddin Ahmed to show its neutral colors in order to be able to stage fair elections in January.

The caretaker government has pledged to weed out biased civil servants and has replaced a string of top-level officials, including the national police chief. It has made no public statement on the future of the election commissioner.

The Awami League fears that biased officials appointed to key posts by the BNP-led government have destroyed its chances of winning the election. It accuses Aziz and his two deputies of drawing up an electoral list that includes 10 million phony voters and excludes many of its own supporters.

The temporary government must hold elections within 90 days of taking power.

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