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Bangladesh Party Leader Sheikh Hasina Barred From Entering Country

Bangladesh's military-backed emergency government has effectively barred the head of the Awami League party, Sheikh Hasina, from returning to the country. Tuesday, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia reportedly agreed to demands from the administration to go into exile. Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi that the two women have dominated the country's politics for nearly two decades.

The general secretary of the Awami League, Abdul Jalil, says the military-backed administration has told the party that its leader, Sheikh Hasina, will not be allowed to return to Bangladesh. Ms. Hasina is in the United States on a private visit.

"The government has taken [a] decision not to allow Sheikh Hasina to come to Bangladesh at this moment," he said. "That has been informed to us."

In a statement, the Home Ministry in Dhaka did not specifically say Ms. Hasina has been barred from entering the country.

But it said that special security measures have been taken regarding her return, and airports and land ports have been asked to take necessary measures. The statement said she might create hostility and carry out activities that disturb law and order.

The Awami League had earlier said Ms. Hasina would return Monday to face charges of extortion and involvement in the murder of four political activists. The charges were filed while she was in the United States. Ms. Hasina has dismissed them as "fake and false", and vows to fight them.

Her political rival, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, has reportedly agreed to demands from the government to go into exile. She is expected to leave for Saudi Arabia by the end of the week with the family of her younger son. Ms. Zia has been under virtual house arrest since last week.

Her aides say her decision to leave the country is part of a deal with the government to leave quietly in exchange for leniency for her two sons, who are charged with corruption. One of them was released Tuesday after a day's detention. The other is still in jail, but a court case against him has been temporarily halted.

The administration's move against the two women is part of its campaign to clean up the country's notoriously corrupt politics.

Ms. Hasina and Ms. Zia have dominated the country's political landscape, and have alternated as prime minister since 1991. But they are often blamed for the widespread political chaos in the country. Their hatred of each other is legendary, and their supporters have frequently paralyzed the country with strikes and violent street protests.