Bangladesh army chief says election at the earliest

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DHAKA, Oct 24 (Reuters) Bangladesh's army chief General Moeen U. Ahmed, now visiting the United States, has reaffirmed that the country's interim government was keen to hold elections ''at the earliest'' and restore democracy ''at any cost''.

Speaking at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., Moeen pledged to ''re-establish democracy and root out corruption'', Dhaka newspapers said today.

In an anti-corruption drive the army-backed interim authority launched after taking power in January, security forces have detained more than 170 key political figures, including former prime ministers Sheikh Hasina and Begum Khaleda Zia, and dozens of ex-ministers.

At Harvard, Hasina's son Sajib Wazed Joy asked Moeen why his mother was being held in prison in Dhaka.

''I would be the happiest person if she (Hasina) was not found guilty,'' Moeen said replying to Joy, Bangladesh's private television ''Channel-i'' reported.

The Harvard-educated Joy and his sister Saima Wazed Putul live in the United States, and have vowed to lead an overseas campaign for the freedom of their mother.

''This government is here to reinstate democracy. But everyone has to remember that corruption devours democracy. So, this war against corruption will continue until the corruption levels are brought down to a tolerable limit,'' Bangladesh media quoted Moeen as saying at meeting of Bangladeshis in Boston.

The interim authority imposed an indefinite state of emergency and cancelled an election planned for January 22, but vowed to hold a free and fair election late next year, after completing the drive against corruption.

REUTERS ARB SSC1248

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