Bangladesh's former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has formally launched her campaign for the parliamentary elections scheduled for December 29.

Ms. Hasina began the day Thursday with prayers at the shrines of Muslim saints in the northeastern town of Sylhet.

The Awami League leader is expected to announce her party's election manifesto during a news conference Friday in the capital, Dhaka.

Her chief rival, Bangladesh Nationalist Party leader Khaleda Zia, also a former prime minister, is expected to begin her campaign on Friday, before unveiling her manifesto Saturday.

In related developments, the Jatiya Party of former President H.M. Ershad has announced it will join the alliance led by the Awami League in the upcoming elections.

The agreement came a day after the Awami League agreed to leave 49 seats in the 300-seat parliament for Jatiya candidates to contest.

Bangladesh has been under emergency rule since January 2007, when the military intervened to stop months of political violence.  The elections are designed to return the country to democratic rule.

Bangladeshi officials said the state of emergency will be fully withdrawn on December 17, while restrictions on holding political meetings and campaign rallies will be lifted this Friday. 

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.