Bangladesh ex-president wooed as new BNP chief

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DHAKA, Sep 14 (Reuters) The Bangladesh Nationalist Party of detained former prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia is wooing the man she fired as the country's president five years ago to take charge of the divided party.

A Q M Badruddoza Chowdhury, a doctor and a founding leader of the BNP, was sacked by Khaleda in 2002 after she won a second term. She never explained the reason for his dismissal.

Last year Badruddoza and a group of dissident BNP leaders launched the Liberal Democratic Party, but it failed to make headway in a country dominated by the BNP and its main rival, the Awami League, at a time of political turmoil.

In January, in the wake of the unrest in which scores of people died and the country was almost paralysed by a series of general strikes, an army-backed interim government headed by former central bank chief Fakhruddin Ahmed took over.

It imposed a state of emergency and cancelled elections planned for that month. Fakhruddin has since vowed to hold a free and fair vote before the end of next year.

DICTATORIAL CONTROL Both the BNP and the Awami League -- led by Khaleda's rival Sheikh Hasina, also a former prime minister -- have been thrown into turmoil by demands from party faithful who insist on reforms to curtail the absolute and often dictatorial control of their leaders.

Khaleda and Hasina rotated as prime minister of Bangladesh for 15 years until October 2006. Both have been been arrested on corruption charges.

One BNP faction is led by its former secretary-general, Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan, who Khaleda fired before her arrest early this month. The other is led by Khandaker Delwar Hossain, whom Khaleda named to replace Bhuiyan.

Leaderless, and perhaps lacking direction, both factions now say they want Badruddoza Chowdhury to take the helm and repair the schism.

Badruddoza, who was president for less than a year, has not reacted, but sources close to him say he is watching developments closely.

Mufazzal Karim, a senior BNP leader and close associate of Mannan Bhuiyan, said despite Badruddoza's sacking, ''we always kept him in high esteem''.

''He is a respected politician,'' said retired brigadier-general Hannan Shah, a key leader of the pro-Khaleda faction.

If convicted, both Khaleda and Hasina will likely be barred from contesting coming elections, lawyers and poll officials say.


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