Rights group urges more Bangladesh political freedoms

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DHAKA, Sep 12 (Reuters) A decision by Bangladesh's army-backed interim government to allow limited political activity was not enough to restore democracy, Human Rights Watch said today.

''The idea that politics is banned in a democracy is bizarre,'' said Sophie Richardson, Asia Advocacy director of the New York-based group, in a statement.

''If the Bangladeshi authorities are serious about restoring democracy, they must fully end the ban on political activities.'' All political activity was banned in Bangladesh after the interim authority, headed by former central bank chief Fakhruddin Ahmed, took charge in January following a series of deadly clashes between rival political activists.

The authority also imposed an indefinite state of emergency and cancelled an election planned for January 22.

But the government last week announced a partial lifting of a ban on indoor political meetings, allowing parties to hold gatherings among themselves and with the Election Commission.

The first meeting between the Commission and an Islamic political group, Islami Oikyo Jote, was held today.

''The IOJ has supported the commission's efforts for preparing a flawless voters' list with photographs,'' Humayun Kabir, secretary of the election commission, told reporters.

Awami League, in the first meeting of its working committee since the easing of restrictions, demanded the immediate release of former prime minister Sheikh Hasina, chief of the party and other leaders.

Hasina, a former prime minister, has been detained since July 16 for alleged extortion.

The meeting also decided to meet the election commission after receiving a formal invitation from the commission.

Today's meeting, headed by Zillur Rahman, acting president of the party, also vowed to keep the party united, sources at the meeting said.

More than 170 leaders and former ministers have been arrested during a nationwide drive against corruption.

Another former premier, Hasina's rival Begum Khaleda Zia, is also in jail facing similar charges to Hasina. Her Bangladesh Nationalist party (BNP) is on the verge of a split.

Several formers ministers from both the government of Hasina and Khaleda have already been jailed on graft charges.

Khandaker Delwar Hossain, whom Khaleda named the BNP's secretary-general before her arrest 10 days ago, said his party would not talk to the election commission or join any election unless she was freed.

REUTERS SG RAI2035

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