Tue, May 08, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Former Bangladeshi PM allowed to return home

AFP , DHAKA

Former Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed was on her way home yesterday after almost two months abroad, during which she faced an attempt by the military-backed government to force her into exile.

Sheikh Hasina boarded an Etihad Airways flight at London's Heathrow airport earlier yesterday, her press secretary Abul Kalam Azad said.

She was due to arrive in the capital Dhaka at 4:45pm under tight security.

The government, which was installed after a state of emergency was declared, has banned political activity, but 16 senior members of Sheikh Hasina's Awami League party had been given permission to meet her at the airport, party general secretary Abdul Jalil said.

But he added that the party had requested supporters not to gather at the airport.

"We have asked our party activists not to mass at the airport because all sorts of gatherings are banned during the emergency," he said.

However, Jahangir Kabir Nanak, the president of Awami League's youth group, said that thousands of supporters could gather.

Sheikh Hasina originally left to visit her family in the US on March 15 and last month was refused permission to board a flight from Britain to Bangladesh, in an attempt by the government to force her into exile.

In an interview on Sunday, Sheikh Hasina said the government had lied to her.

"The biggest betrayal was that they would not let me return to the country," Hasina said in an interview with the Bangladeshi New Age newspaper at her London residence.

The emergency government lifted the ban on Sheikh Hasina's return on Wednesday and also eased pressure on the most recent prime minister, Khaleda Zia.

Zia earlier had agreed to go into exile in Saudi Arabia in return for leniency for her two sons, who face corruption allegations.

Bangladesh has been ruled by a military-backed government since January, when the president declared a state of emergency and cancelled elections planned for Jan. 22.

The move came after massive protests by the Awami League over alleged corruption in the voting system.

Sheikh Hasina, who was prime minister between 1996 and 2001, and Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party are fierce rivals who have traded the top post since 1991.

Critics say they paralyzed Bangladesh's democracy and failed to tackle corruption.

The new government has begun a nationwide crackdown on graft, arresting more than 50 top politicians from the two main parties.

New polls would be held no earlier than late next year as voting reform was needed, it said.

Sheikh Hasina was charged with murder and extortion last month, but police suspended a warrant for her arrest in connection with the alleged murders pending further investigation of the four deaths last year.

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