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Leadership Battle in Bangladesh Turns to Courts

Judges in Bangladesh are stepping into a dispute the country's interim government and two former prime ministers that has threatened to send the two into exile. VOA's Steve Herman reports from New Delhi.

The lifting of an arrest warrant Monday, issued the day before, against former Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina does not appear to clear the way for her to return to her country.

That is the assessment of legal analysts in Dhaka one day after Ms. Hasina was prevented from boarding a flight in London to Dhaka, on orders of Bangladesh's military-backed interim government. That ban on her return appears to be separate from the now-suspended murder charges.

Barrister Abdur Razzaq in Dhaka says the former leader is unable to return for political reasons, while the courts may want her to return to face charges. If the charges are reinstated, she could be in the bizarre position of being a fugitive who cannot turn herself in.

"There are two conflicting things going on. On one criminal case, process has been issued against her. And on constitutional issues, the government says 'we don't want to see you here.' So it's cat and mouse, hot and cold," he said.

Hasina, in a VOA interview from London, insists she has every right to return home to face charges stemming from the deaths of four people in a political riot last year.

Sheikh Hasina was prime minister from 1996 to 2001.

Her archrival, former two-time Prime Minister Khaleda Zia also faces legal troubles. She has been under virtual house arrest while her two sons have been detained.

Dhaka media on Monday first suggested she was packing to leave the country, but later reports say she has now refused a deal to go into voluntary exile in exchange for leniency against her sons.

Legal expert Razzaq says her fate could be decided Sunday when a court will require the government to explain why to she is under house arrest.

"The government will be asked to show cause. If the government couldn't satisfy the court, the court will say, 'well, she's free to move around Bangladesh.' About the other thing, that she has a deal with the government [to go into exile], this is all behind the curtain," said Razzaq.

The interim government, as part of its anti-corruption drive, is trying to rid Bangladesh of the so-called battling begums a reference to the two women leaders who have polarized politics in Bangladesh for decades.

More than 160 top political figures have been arrested since a state of emergency was imposed on January 11. The interim government says it intends to hold parliamentary elections before the end of next year.

It is also trying to make clear that it no longer wants either Ms. Zia or Ms. Hasina to be a part of the political process.