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Bangladesh's Top 2 Political Leaders Fight Efforts to Drive Them Out of Country

Supporters of a top Bangladeshi politician say the leader is determined to defy a government ban on her return to the country. Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi on developments in Bangladesh, where the emergency government is seeking to remove the leaders of the two most powerful parties from the political scene.

Former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina says she plans to defy a government ban on her return to Bangladesh. She says she is a citizen of the country, and the interim government has no right to keep her out.

In response, a spokesman for the Bangladesh Law Ministry, Mainul Husein, told reporters in Dhaka that the country "is in a state of emergency, and none of us has any fundamental rights."

The military-backed government has effectively blocked the return of Ms. Hasina, the head of Bangladesh's powerful Awami League party.

Ms. Hasina, who is in London after a private visit to the United States, had plans to fly to Dhaka on Monday.

However, the military-backed government has instructed officials at all entry points to block her entry and has asked international and domestic airlines to refuse to board her on any flight to Bangladesh.

The government has also pressured Ms. Hasina's arch-rival, Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, to go into exile.

Domestic media initially said Ms. Zia would leave for Saudi Arabia on Sunday. But news reports now say she has set new conditions for her departure. She wants to meet a final time with party leaders and she wants to take her elder son with her. He is currently under arrest.

Ataus Samad, an independent political analyst in Dhaka, says the politicians are showing they will not easily accept the administration's moves to drive them from the scene.

"While Sheikh Hasina is getting a huge press abroad and showing from there that she is in a fighting mode, Begum Zia's supporters here is (are) fighting a last battle," said Samad.

On Thursday, Ms. Zia's supporters filed a court appeal to stop the government from forcing her into exile.

A Bangladeshi television station quoted one of Ms. Hasina's aides as saying she plans to defy the ban on her return.

The two women head the country's two largest parties, and have alternated as prime minister since 1991. But the personal rivalry between them has often led to deadly violence, and has marred the country's politics for years.

An interim administration took office in January and was charged with arranging new parliamentary elections. But with the backing of the military, it declared an emergency and banned all political activity.

Analysts say the administration aims to force the political parties to revamp their leadership before elections are held next year.