B'desh army chief says not eyeing a political role

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DHAKA, Oct 21 (Reuters) Politicians, still keeping a low profile under Bangladesh's emergency rules, said today they felt relieved by the army chief's renewed pledge to stay out of politics.

The remarks over the past two days by General Moeen U Ahmed, now visiting Europe and the United States, made headlines in Bangladesh newspapers and were broadcast on television.

''He (Moeen) did the right thing that a patriotic army chief should do,'' Khandaker Delwar Hossain, secretary-general of Bangladesh Nationalist Party, said.

Zillur Rahman, acting general secretary of the other major party, the Awami League, said the nation felt ''greatly relieved'' by the assurances given by Moeen that he had no intention to enter politics or even take a political role at the end of his military job.

Moeen, in remarks made to Bangladesh media representatives in the Britain and and United States, said the army was just helping the country's interim authority to fight corruption and hold a free and fair election by the end of next year.

Bangladesh has been under a state of emergency since the army-backed interim authority, headed by former central bank chief Fakhruddin Ahmed, took charge in January, following months of political violence.

It cancelled an election planned for January 22 but vowed to hold free and credible polls after completing the drive against corruption and implementing reforms to make democracy sustainable in Bangladesh.

The anti-corruption drive has drawn wide support from Bangladeshis, but politicians recently showed unease over the likely motives of the armed forces, especially after the media had reported that Moeen could become president of the republic.

Though largely a ceremonial position, the president is the constitutional head of the armed forces and thus yields huge influence on the political government.

The generals ruled Bangladesh for 15 years till December 1990, when a people's revolt ousted the last military ruler, Hossain Mohammad Ershad.

''We [the army] are not governing the country. Like others, we have been only helping the government as part of the government,'' Moeen said in New York.

''Some people sought to insist that we should impose martial law ... though I've repeatedly moved to make the army's position clear,'' the daily Star, a Dhaka-based English language newspaper, quoted him as saying.

''We are not part of the power. We are just doing our duties by helping the government face natural disasters and eliminate corruption,'' the outspoken general said.

REUTERS SKB VC1425

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