Tue, Jul 17, 2007 - Page 4 News List

Bangladesh incarcerates former PM

SENDING A MESSAGE? Deposed prime minister Khaleda Zia was also ordered to appear before a court by Aug. 26 over tax evasion allegations

AFP

Bangladesh arrested former prime minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed on extortion charges yesterday, setting off an angry showdown with her supporters that saw police open fire with rubber bullets and tear gas.

And in another move against the country's former political hierarchy, the military-backed emergency government also ordered deposed prime minister Khaleda Zia to appear before a court by Aug. 26 over tax evasion allegations.

Hundreds of police and elite security forces mounted a dawn raid on the home of Sheikh Hasina, who heads the Awami League and led the impoverished country from 1996 to 2001. They cut off telephone lines and sealed off all roads in the immediate vicinity.

"A couple of hundred people held a procession as the police were escorting Sheikh Hasina to jail," said Deen Mohammed, an assistant commissioner of Dhaka police. "We fired rubber bullets and tear gas shells at the unruly supporters and we have arrested several people."

Sheikh Hasina and Zia, dubbed the "battling begums" for their bitter rivalry, ruled alternately from 1991 to last year and stand accused of misrule that brought the country to the brink of anarchy earlier this year.

The government attempted to exile both in April as part of its efforts to reshape Bangladesh politics, although it later abandoned the plan.

Zia, the leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, was also summoned for tax evasion.

"The Dhaka metropolitan magistrates' court issued a summons on Monday [yesterday] against Khaleda Zia and 10 others for failing to pay taxes for a company that she owns," said her lawyer, Mohammad Sanaullah.

The nation has been in political turmoil since January, when an army-backed government took power after violent protests and strikes by supporters of the two women led to elections being canceled.

Authorities have vowed to clean up the country's notoriously graft-ridden politics before holding new elections in December next year.

Sheikh Hasina's son, Sajid Wajed Joy, condemned the arrest.

"It is a conspiracy against her and against democracy," he said via telephone from the US.

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