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Bangladesh Political Parties Welcome End of Restrictions on Leaders

  • Anjana Pasricha

Bangladesh's Awami League party says its leader Sheikh Hasina will return to the country now that the government has decided to lift a ban on her entry into the country. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, political parties in Bangladesh proclaimed a victory for democracy a day after Bangladesh's interim government backtracked on plans to keep two former prime ministers out of the country.

Bangladesh's main political parties, the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party say the government's decision to lift all restrictions on two former prime ministers, Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, is a people's victory.

In an unexpected statement late Wednesday, the government lifted a ban on Sheikh Hasina's entry into the country. Ms. Hasina is currently in London. She was prevented from boarding a flight to Dhaka on Sunday.

The statement also denied that former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia was under pressure to leave the country, and said there are no restrictions on her movements.

Ms. Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party has expressed relief and hoped the government will protect people's constitutional rights.

Although officials did not confirm it, Ms. Zia had been put under virtual house arrest as the government prepared to send her into exile to Saudi Arabia.

The moves against the two leaders were part of the government's plans to pressure them to give up their iron grip on their two parties.

The general-secretary of the Awami League Party, Abdul Jalil, says Sheikh Hasina will return from London to Dhaka "shortly".

"It has been proved that fundamental and constitutional rights of a person cannot be curtailed. I think this is a victory of the people's wish, and we expect that Sheikh Hasina, the people's leader will come back soon," said Jalil.

However, the pressure on the two powerful leaders to quit politics may not have eased completely. On Thursday, the government asked bank officials to submit details of the accounts of the two leaders and their families. This has prompted speculation that they may face corruption charges.

Ms. Zia's two sons have already been charged with corruption, and one is in jail. Ms. Hasina faces charges of extortion and involvement in the murder of four political activists.

A government adviser for law and information Mainul Husein told a television network that the decision of the two leaders to remain in the country would make no difference to the government's agenda to organize free and credible elections.

The two leaders have alternated as prime ministers since 1991, and represent rival political dynasties. The government wanted them removed from the leadership of their parties as part of a drive to clean up the country's politics. But analysts say the latest developments show that it will not be easy to eliminate the powerful leaders from the political scene.