More senior political and business leaders have been arrested in Bangladesh, where the military-backed interim government says it is trying to clean up the country's notoriously corrupt politics before it holds elections. Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi.

The high-profile arrests include two former government ministers - Commerce Minister Altaf Hossain Chowdhury and Health Minister Sheikh Selim - mayors of two large cities (Sylhet and Barisal), a top businessman, and three senior leaders of the country's two main political parties.

The arrests were made on Monday and Tuesday. Officials did not say what charges the politicians and businessman face, but they are believed to have been detained on suspicion of corruption.

It is the second big wave of detentions since the emergency government launched a drive against corruption in politics.

The government has arrested nearly 160 people since it took over in January, after the indefinite postponement of general elections.

So far three politicians have been sentenced by special courts. They include former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's once-powerful political secretary, Harris Chowdhury, who was sentenced in absentia to three years in prison.

Mahfuz Anam, editor of Dhaka's Daily Star newspaper, says there is wide support for the crackdown on corruption.

"People would like to see some concrete results, people who are known to have abused power, known to have amassed huge amounts of wealth, I think it would be quite a popular move on the part of the government to sentence them, to reveal concretely to the masses the past nature of their corruption," said Anam.

The latest arrests brought an angry response from the head of the Awami League, Sheikh Hasina. She called the detentions an "autocratic move" and said the government is targeting politicians, not corruption.

But the government's Law Adviser Mainul Hosein said the government is not bound to work at the instruction of politicians, because it had not assumed power with "the mandate of politicians."

Sheikh Hasina, who was prime minister from 1996 to 2001, is herself under scrutiny. Authorities say they are reviving two graft cases against her, relating to purchase of defense equipment. Last month, she was charged with extortion and involvement in murder of rival party workers.

The government has promised to hold elections by end of 2008, but political parties are pressing for an early vote. The interim government has banned all political activity in the meantime.