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Bangladesh Lifts 23-Month State of Emergency

The interim government of Bangladesh has lifted the state of emergency. That clears the way for campaigning on the streets, ahead of this month's national election. It is hoped the polls will lead to the restoration of stable democratic governance in one of Asia's poorest and most-corrupt countries.

Bangladeshi government officials have confirmed emergency provisions have been lifted, after being in effect for nearly two years.

The move by the army-backed interim government allows less than two weeks of political campaigning and rallies, ahead of the December 29 election.

The executive director of Transparency International in Bangladesh, Iftekhar Zaman, is hailing the move.

"This is an important step," said Zaman. "We always wanted that the elections should be held in a condition where people can take part freely and fairly with enthusiasm and without any threats or intimidation to anybody."

Army troops, augmenting police and para-military forces, will be providing extra security, beginning later this week through election day, attempting to ensure violence-free campaigning and polling.
That would be a change from most recent elections, when the fierce rivalry between the Awami League and the Bangladesh National Party has led to bloodshed.

A new electoral code has been put in place and a national list of voters has been compiled. For the first time, Bangladesh will be using an electronic voting system.

Zaman says these innovations raise hopes for a smooth election.

"In general, I would expect that the elections will be sufficiently free and free. But we don't know, because in Bangladesh things can change in a few hours or a few days," added Zaman. "We will have our fingers crossed and expect that things will go smoothly."

Bangladesh, since gaining independence from Pakistan in 1971, has gone through a series of coups and counter-coups.

The interim government, with the backing of the military, has been in power since January, 2007, following a period of political turmoil.

The leaders of the two main rival parties rotated as heads of government during a 15-year period, through 2006. Both women - former prime ministers Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia - were among the politicians arrested during the period of emergency rule and charged with corruption. Their release from jail and the lifting of the emergency were pre-conditions by their parties for participating in the election.