Former Bangladesh PM Zia Appears in Court on Corruption Charges

Bangladesh's former prime minister, Khaleda Zia, has appeared in court on corruption charges and accused the government of using the courts to rig upcoming elections.

Ms. Zia made an initial appearance Wednesday to face charges that she, her son, and at least 11 others used their influence to illegally award a port deal to a local company.  The trial was adjourned until June 10.

After the hearing, Ms. Zia told reporters she and her co-defendants are innocent. She said the government was trying to set up what she called a farcical election by keeping political leaders in prison.

Ms. Zia, who heads the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, has urged the military-backed interim government to lift the state of emergency by the end of June and to hold elections in October.

The caretaker government has pledged parliamentary elections by the end of this year.

Ms. Zia is also being tried on separate graft charges involving the Canadian oil company Niko.

The Bangladeshi military took over in January 2007 after months of political turmoil, declared emergency rule and installed the caretaker government. 

Last month, the government approved the formation of a Truth and Accountability Commission, which will allow corruption suspects to avoid jail if they admit to the charges and return any illegally-earned wealth.

Ms. Zia's longtime rival, former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, is facing similar charges.

The two former prime ministers are among some 170 politicians and business people arrested by the interim government as part of its massive anti-graft sweep.

Bangladesh, with 150 million people, is consistently ranked as one of the world's most corrupt countries.


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