Hopes for early elections in Bangladesh have suffered a setback with the Awami League announcing it will not meet with the interim government unless its jailed leader is freed. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Dhaka.
The Awami League formally announced Wednesday it will not agree to the caretaker government's request to engage in dialogue until the party's leader, Sheikh Hasina, is released. The former prime minister is jailed and facing trial for alleged corruption and abuse of power during her tenure.
Former Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed, a senior figure of the party, tells VOA News the Awami League unanimously decided to boycott the talks until Sheikh Hasina is freed.
"There cannot be a fruitful dialogue without Sheikh Hasina," Ahmed said. "So until and unless Sheikh Hasina is released from the prison without any condition we are not going to participate in that dialogue."
The Army-backed interim government has hoped that the Awami League and its long-time rival, the Bangladesh National Party, known as the BNP, will join its ongoing talks with all political parties about the planned parliamentary elections.
The military seized power in January, 2007 following months of violent political feuding between supporters of the two rival parties. The head of the BNP, former prime minister Khaleda Zia, is also in detention facing graft charges.
BNP Secretary-General Khondkar Delwar Hossain tells VOA News his party can be expected soon to formally issue the same pre-condition as the Awami League.
"To date I don't see any possibility of participating in the dialogues and the elections without our chief being released and the cases brought against her withdrawn," Hossain said.
The two female political matriarchs, known as the Battling Begums, are among 170 politicians, business people and other high-profile figures arrested as part of the interim government's campaign to cleanse the country of corruption, which it says is a prerequisite for the restoration of democracy.
The caretaker government, which is ruling Bangladesh under an extended state of emergency, says it plans to hold parliamentary elections in December. But analysts say few inside or out of the country would consider any elections legitimate without the participation of the two major parties.