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Former Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Arrested


In Bangladesh, former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been arrested on extortion charges. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the detention comes just months after the military-backed interim administration tried unsuccessfully to exile the powerful woman, who heads the Awami League party.

Hundreds of policemen and elite security forces surrounded former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's residence in Dhaka early Monday morning, and then she was driven to a metropolitan court.

Roads in the neighborhood were sealed as the arrest took place. Independent political analyst Ataus Samad says the government is taking extra precautions for the operation.

"It was a very large police force which surrounded Sheikh Hasina's house early in the morning, and…near the parliament house there is a building…which has been declared a sub-jail, there is (also) quite tight security there," Samad said.

The court ordered Ms. Hasina held for an indefinite period. Police say she has been detained in connection with a charge of extorting about $440,000 from a businessman during her term in office from 1996 to 2001.

Ms. Hasina has denied all charges against her, and she waved to reporters and photographers in the courtroom.

Sheikh Hasina heads the Awami League, one of the country's two main political parties. Police fired tear gas Monday after Awami League supporters demonstrated in downtown Dhaka following their leader's arrest.

The arrest comes as no surprise. The military-backed government, which took power in January, has made it clear that it wants new leadership for both of the country's two main political parties. Earlier this year, the administration tried to force both Ms. Hasina and her arch-rival, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, out of politics.

Analyst Ataus Samad says Dhaka has been abuzz with rumors in recent days about the possible detention of the two powerful women.

We were hearing reports…that she will be arrested as well as Begum Zia will be arrested…. We were told that Sheikh Hasina has already started taking action which would be needed in her party when she is under arrest," Samad said.

In April, the government tried to exile Ms. Hasina by barring her return from a vacation in the United States. It also tried to persuade Ms. Zia to leave the country voluntarily. The government later backed down, however: Khaleda Zia remained in the country, and Sheikh Hasina returned to a big welcome by her party workers.

The interim administration came to power in January after differences between the two political parties on how to hold elections plunged the country into political turmoil. The administration, with the backing of the military, has since arrested at least 170 people, including high-profile political leaders, as part of a massive anti-corruption drive.

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