Fri, Nov 24, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Election chief in Bangladesh steps aside after protests

AFP , DHAKA

A nationwide transport blockade entered its fourth day in Bangladesh yesterday despite a decision by the country's controversial election chief to step aside as demanded by the opposition.

Bangladeshi President Iajuddin Ahmed, who heads the country's interim government, announced late on Wednesday that chief election commissioner M.A. Aziz would take three months' leave.

The decision was expected to pave the way for an end to the political standoff that has seen the country paralyzed by opposition blockades and mass protests.

The main opposition Awami League and its allies had accused Aziz of seeking to influence January elections in favor of the outgoing government led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and demanded that he quit.

The party said yesterday it would decide later whether to call off its indefinite road, rail and river blockade.

"We have not withdrawn the blockade because most of our demands have not been met," said Obaidul Qader, a senior Awami league leader.

"The president has just sent Aziz on leave. But he has not yet removed all the controversial [deputy] election commissioners. Besides, it has not been decided who is going to act as the new election chief," he said.

Aziz's removal was one of a string of demands made by the opposition.

It had demanded that the president meet the demands to demonstrate his neutrality as head of the temporary caretaker government which is in place to hold free and fair elections in January.

Thousands of opposition supporters were on the streets of the capital Dhaka yesterday although police said they had no reports of any violence.

Bangladesh has seen months of protests and strikes by the opposition to press its demands for the removal of officials it accuses of political bias.

The president has said he expects the political crisis to be resolved by Aziz's decision and that two additional commissioners would now be appointed.

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