Fri, Apr 13, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Opposition leader to face murder charges at home

BANGLADESH Sheikh Hasina Wajed decided not to return home after learning that a case is being made concerning her behavior during a military crackdown

AFP , DHAKA

Bangladesh's main opposition leader Sheikh Hasina Wajed has postponed her return home after being charged with the murder of four people during political unrest last year, a party official said yesterday.

The delay followed a phone call late on Wednesday from a senior government adviser who told Hasina not to rush back from her holiday in the US, the general secretary of her Awami League party, Abdul Jalil, said.

"An adviser called me and our leader Sheikh Hasina last night. He urged her to defer her date of return," Jalil said.

"He said they need time to look into the case and assured us that her image and dignity would not be harmed."

Hasina had planned to cut her US vacation short and fly home on Saturday to fight the charges.

"She was originally scheduled to come back on April 23. But I am not sure whether she would come back on that day," Jalil said.

Hasina was charged on Wednesday with the murders and is also facing accusations of extortion, in a crackdown by the military-backed government.

"We think it's a politically motivated case against our leader," Jalil said.

Hasina told the BBC from the US that the charges were "fake and false."

Police have given no details of the role Hasina is accused of playing in the battering to death of four men last October.

Hasina last weekend attacked the government's decision to delay elections for 18 months.

On Monday, she was accused of extortion of 30 million taka (US$434,000) by the Bangladeshi chief of a Malaysian-owned company. Police are still investigating the allegations and have not brought formal charges against her.

At the same time, the government has severely curtailed the freedom of former prime minister Khaleda Zia, putting her under virtual house arrest after she warned the country might "plunge into darkness."

Bangladesh has been under emergency rule since elections slated for January were cancelled following months of turmoil over allegations of poll rigging.

The government, promising to root out corruption and carry out sweeping political reforms before new polls, has banned all political gatherings and arrested at least 50 top politicians.

Media have speculated the government is trying to force Hasina and Zia into exile, but the administration has denied the claims.

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