Bangladesh's new interim leader Fakhruddin Ahmed took charge of security agencies and the election commission on Sunday, as mass arrests continued days after the president declared a state of emergency following weeks of deadly unrest ahead of disputed elections.
The national security chief and a top civil servant have been ousted, officials said yesterday, amid sweeping changes following the imposition of a state of emergency and the cancelation of elections.
"Major General Rezakul Haider Chowdhury has been sent to retirement after he was removed as the director general of National Security Intelligence," an armed forces spokesman said.
No reason for the sacking was given, although Chowdhury was widely seen as close to the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which governed the country until last October and is accused of having attempted to rig elections.
Also ousted was Power Ministry secretary A.N.H Akhter Hossain, another powerful figure close to the BNP, the government's press information department said in a statement.
Hossain was demoted to another position in the Water Ministry, it added.
New leader Ahmed met with acting Chief Election Commissioner Mahfuzur Rahman to make fresh voting plans, as the impoverished country's two feuding political camps demanded that the ballot postponed from next Monday be held as soon as possible.
"We have planned to sit with leaders of all political parties to discuss ways on how we can proceed further," the commission's secretary, Abdur Rashid Sarker, told reporters after the meeting.
Ahmed was appointed on Friday after the president stepped down as leader of the caretaker government and declared a state of emergency to quell boycott threats, paralyzing strikes and violent protests alleging the election was rigged.
More than 4,000 people were detained after the announcement, including 1,518 arrested overnight and on Sunday, the Interior Ministry said, giving no further additional information.
The government said last week that disruptive elements would continue to be arrested until a new election was held.
Local news reports say people from both sides of the dispute over the elections have been detained.
The two feuding political camps on Sunday demanded the new caretaker government takes steps to announce a new election. It was their first clear response since President Iajuddin Ahmed ordered the state of emergency and appointed the new administration.
The major political alliance that organized the election protests, led by former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, on Sunday demanded new elections as soon as possible.
"We want the elections in a specific timeframe," alliance spokesman Abdul Jalil told reporters, without naming the timeframe.
He also demanded the new caretaker administration revamp the election commission, update and correct the voters' list and remove disputed election officials.
Separately, Hasina's rival former prime minister Khaleda Zia's four-party coalition also made a similar demand.
"We hope the new administration will take initiatives of holding a new election soon," Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan, Zia's close aide, told reporters late on Sunday.
Ahmed, a respected economist and former central bank governor, took control of the Interior Ministry and Election Commission Secretariat on Sunday, a statement from the government's Cabinet Division said.
The new leader distributed portfolios to five newly appointed advisers on Sunday at the new government's first meeting.
"We have discussed a range of issues including law and order, and the new elections," M.A. Matin, one of the five advisers, told reporters after the meeting. He did not elaborate.
One of the main challenges facing the new interim government was to ensure a credible election with the participation of all parties, the United News of Bangladesh news agency quoted another newly appointed adviser to the caretaker government as saying.
"We've two challenges before us right now -- collectively holding a free and fair election, and proper running of the ministries concerned," the agency quoted Mirza Azizul Islam as saying.
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