Leading Bangladesh party sidelines ex-PM Khaleda

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DHAKA, Oct 30 (Reuters) Former Bangladesh prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia, in detention on corruption charges, has been dealt an embarrassing blow by her Bangladesh Nationalist Party which dumped her chosen leaders at a late-night meeting.

The move was seen as an apparent attempt by party reformists to distance themselves from Khaleda ahead of elections late next year.

The BNP's highest decision making body met at former finance minister Saifur Rahman's Dhaka home late yesterday, and appointed him the party's acting chairperson to replace Khaleda's chosen stand-in.

The party also appointed another former minister Hafizuddin Ahmed, a known reformist in the BNP, as its secretary-general.

It called back a former secretary-general, Abdul Mannanuiyan, who led a failed bid to curtail Khaleda's power, into the party's mainstream.

''It's a midnight melodrama in the BNP,'' said popular Bangla-language daily Jugantar. Another leading daily Janakantha called it a ''Midnight Coup in the BNP''.

Last night's five-hour meeting was attended by party reformists, including Mannan Bhuiyan and his followers, but Khaleda's chosen people were absent.

''It looks like the reformists, who want Khaleda sidelined and her absolute power reduced, are taking control,'' said one BNP supporter.

Professor Ataur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Political Science Association, saw the changes as a positive move. ''A political party cannot be run by the decisions of a single person.

There should be a shared decision making process,'' he said.

Khaleda and her main rival Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League -- who have headed the country's two biggest political parties and alternated as prime minister for the last 15 years -- are both in jail facing charges of corruption and abuse of power.

They were put behind the bars, along with more than 170 other politicians, in an anti-corruption drive launched by the army-backed government that took charge in January following months of political violence.

REUTERS SG VC1515

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