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Bangladesh Trying to Exile Battling Begums


The fate of the women who lead Bangladesh's two main political parties remains uncertain. Former prime minister Sheikh Hasina has vowed to return to Bangladesh to face murder and corruption charges, but she has not been allowed to fly back to Dhaka. Meanwhile, another former prime minister, Khaleda Zia, may go into voluntary exile. VOA's Steve Herman reports from our South Asia bureau in New Delhi.

Bangladesh's military backed interim government is a step closer to ridding the country of the two women it accuses of a 15-year era of corrupt and violent political rule in the country.

Former prime minister Sheikh Hasina, who heads the Awami League, was refused a boarding pass Sunday as she tried to board a British Aiways flight from London to Dhaka.

Awami League General Secretary Abdul Jalil tells VOA the government in Dhaka has instructed airlines not to allow her on any flight headed for Bangladesh.

"I do not know what will happen," said Abdul Jalil. "If she cannot get on board she will not be able to come to Bangladesh."

Ms. Hasina has vowed to return home to face murder and extortion charges filed against her while she was vacationing in the United States.

A Bangladesh court on Sunday issued a warrant for her arrest, alleging she is responsible for the deaths last October of at least four people who were beaten by Awami League activists during rioting in Dhaka.

Jalil, a former commerce minister, is among the 43 people facing murder charges in connection with that incident. He says party leaders will use the legal system, not demonstrations, to fight the charges.

"We will fight legally, because this is a case which cannot be fought on the street," he said. "We will have to fight in court of law. And we are 100-percent sure that in the procedural court of law, nothing will happen [to us], because there is no evidence."

Meanwhile Hasina's arch rival, Bangladesh National Party leader Khaleda Zia led a coalition government until last October. She has been negotiating a deal with the government to have corruption charges dropped against her two sons in exchange for their pledge to go into exile in Saudi Arabia. It is unclear whether she will quickly conclude a deal or attempt to stay in Bangladesh, where her followers say she has been under house arrest.

An interim government backed by the army took was installed in January after the country was paralyzed by strikes and violence - blamed on the followers of the two former prime ministers. Bangladesh has been under emergency rule since then, and elections scheduled for January have been put off until next year.

Sheikh Hasina is the daughter of Sheikh Mujibar Rahman, the country's first president and prime minister. He was murdered along with most of his family in 1975.

Khaleda Zia is the widow of a former president who was assassinated during an attempted military coup in 1981.

Despite the current suspension of democracy, the interim government has gained popular support with its anti-corruption drive - in which 160 people from both of the main parties have been arrested.

Government officials have said they would like to hold elections before the end of next year, but have also made it clear that they want neither of the two women to play any further role in Bangladeshi politics.

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