No pressure on Bangladesh ex-PM to take exile-gov't

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DHAKA, May 12 (Reuters) The Bangladesh government is putting no pressure on former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia to go into exile and she can resume political activity when the state of emergency is lifted, a government spokesman said today.

Senior members of Khaleda's Bangladesh Nationalist Party and local media had earlier said the interim government, working to complete electoral reforms and hold new elections, had been trying to persuade her to go into exile.

''There is no pressure on Khaleda to go into exile. Khaleda and (her rival Sheikh) Hasina will be able to do political activities like others when the emergency is lifted,'' top government spokesman Fahim Munaim told a weekly news briefing.

''The emergency will be lifted when the situation improves,'' Munaim added, without giving details.

The state of emergency was imposed in January in the wake of widespread violence between supporters of Khaleda and Hasina, who alternated as prime ministers for 15 years until 2006. A January 22 election was cancelled and political activity banned.

The army-backed interim administration has since detained scores of politicians including Khaleda's son Tareque Rahman in an anti-graft drive that has also targeted the two leaders.

Khaleda, who according to media reports had been virtually confined to her home since April 1, left her house on Friday for the first time in more than a fortnight to meet a visiting former US congressman.

She avoided any comment after her dinner meeting with Gregory Laughlin at the home of a senior BNP leader in Dhaka.

Laughlin said they discussed the current situation in Bangladesh, but did not elaborate.

Hasina visited the headquarters of her Awami League party amid tight security on Saturday, her first visit there since January.

She went to pay her respects after an office assistant died of asthma at a Dhaka hospital yesterday night. Hasina received party leaders at her home on Thursday and has been out to visit a relative, her associates said.

The government eased restrictions on the two women earlier this week after accusations that they had been placed under virtual house arrest. But reporters have not been allowed to meet them, though security officials have given no reason.

Local media earlier reported that Khaleda, under government pressure, had agreed to go into exile in Saudi Arabia in exchange for the release of her son. Khaleda was believed to have changed her mind later.

Hasina, while abroad on holiday last month, was briefly barred from returning to Bangladesh ''for security reasons''. The ban was lifted and she returned to Dhaka from London last week.


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