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Sheikh Hasina Returns to Lead Her Party in Bangladesh


Former Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has returned to the country to lead her party in general elections, scheduled for December. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the polls are being held to restore democracy in the country, which is ruled by a military-backed administration.

Thousands of Awami League supporters greeted Sheikh Hasina with flowers and cheers as she drove from the Dhaka airport to her home, after her return from the United States, where she spent four months for medical treatment.

Sheikh Hasina, who faces trial in a number of corruption and extortion cases, was paroled from prison in June.

The Awami League leader says she has come to rescue her country from "a great crisis." She says elections must be held on schedule.

The December 18 elections are expected to restore democracy to the country, after nearly two years of emergency rule. But observers say the polls will only be credible if the country's two main parties - the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party - participate in the polls.

Awami League General Secretary Abdul Jalil says Sheikh Hasina will seek bail and fulfill her pledge to lead her party in the elections.

"Through elections, the fundamental rights should be returned to people of Bangladesh, so that they can decide the future on their own," said Jalil. "That is her wish, that democracy in Bangladesh should get on strong footing."

Political observers say Sheikh Hasina's categorical vow to take part in the polls will put pressure on the rival Bangladesh Nationalist Party to join the race.

Wednesday, BNP head, Khaleda Zia told her party workers to "avoid an unfair and unacceptable election." She wants emergency rule to be lifted before the polls and has not confirmed her party's participation in the election.

Khaleda Zia also faces several charges of corruption and is out on bail after spending more than a year in prison. Both Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia were released from jail to ensure that their parties take part in the elections.

Earlier this week, the military-backed government paved the way for political parties to launch election campaigns, by lifting all curbs on political rallies. The government had clamped down on political gatherings, when it took power last year, after bitter rivalry between the Awami League and the BNP led to months of violence.

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