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Bangladesh's Zia Urges National Unity - 2001-10-03

In Bangladesh, the leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist party, Khaleda Zia, has called for national unity following her landslide victory in the country's general elections. A four party alliance led by the Bangladesh Nationalist party won a two-thirds majority in the 300-member parliament, winning 202 of the 283 seats where vote counting is completed. The Awami League, which led the last government, won only 62 seats.

The victory won by the Bangladesh Nationalist party was stunning, but the celebrations were muted. The restraint by party activists followed a call from their leader, Khaleda Zia, not to antagonize the rival Awami League party.

Khaleda Zia is expected to be named prime minister after results are officially declared. She is stressing the need for political unity, although she will not need to rely heavily on other parties because of the huge majority she has won.

At a news conference, Mrs. Zia asked political parties to come together and build a country free from terrorism. She asked for the help of the Awami League and other parties in this task.

Analysts say Mrs. Zia will need to establish some degree of national reconciliation to give Bangladesh political stability. The election campaign was hostile and violent, and there are fears the defeated Awami League might resort to disruptive strikes and parliamentary boycotts. These tactics have been frequently used by opposition parties in Bangladesh.

The Awami League has already complained of voter fraud and challenged the results, but newspapers in Dhaka are urging the party to refrain from protests and street demonstrations. Some party members are also calling for reflection rather than action.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Zia is promising to eradicate corruption, improve law and order, and increase living standards.

Mrs. Zia is also allaying fears that religion will have any role in her administration. She fought the election in alliance with three hard-line Islamic parties, raising concerns that the party may come under pressure to change the country's secular laws.

Mrs. Zia has already begun the task of putting together a government, and is holding discussions with her alliance partners on sharing of cabinet seats.

A new government must be in place in Bangladesh by October 15.