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Bangladesh Postpones Transition of Power Amid Street Violence

  • Anjana Pasricha

The outgoing government in Bangladesh has postponed handing over power to a caretaker administration amid violent protests by opposition parties and disagreement over who should be in charge. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the standoff between the government and the main opposition party has led to street clashes in which at least five people have died.

A presidential spokesman in the capital, Dhaka, says the swearing-in of a caretaker government led by K.M. Hasan has been postponed because Hasan is ill.

Newspapers, however, speculated that Hasan's sudden illness might indicate his unwillingness to take charge of the interim administration.

He was due to take over from Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, whose five-year term expired Friday, and organize national elections by January. No new date has been set for the handover, which by law must be held within 14 days.

The government's plan to appoint Hasan has been mired in controversy. The main opposition party, the Awami League, accuses him of bias in favor of the ruling party, of which he is a former member.

Abdul Jalil, general-secretary of the Awami League, says Hasan cannot be trusted as head of a neutral body that is supposed to ensure fair polls.

"If they continue with their proposal of heading the neutral caretaker government by Hasan, we will not let them hold elections under him," he said. "The protests will be throughout the country."

Even before the current government's tenure ended Friday night, the opposition had threatened to paralyze the country with demonstrations.

The violence began soon after a televised address by Prime Minister Zia late Friday. She promised to respect the constitution and appealed for peace. But there were clashes between her supporters and opponents that same evening.

Thousands of riot police and paramilitary troops have now been deployed in the capital. On Saturday they fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse hundreds of stone-throwing opposition protesters.

Clashes also erupted in other towns, injuring and killing several people. Opposition activists have also barricaded several main highways.

The ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Awami League have a history of bitter relations. As the political uncertainty continues, political analysts said Bangladesh could be headed for more violence.

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