Bangladesh party seeks Hasina release before polls

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DHAKA, Nov 4 (Reuters) The party of former Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina today demanded an end to emergency rule and the release of its leader to ensure a fair national election, expected some time next year.

Hasina is among scores of politicians arrested in a crackdown launched by the country's army-backed interim administration as part of its campaign against corruption.

''We don't believe that a free and fair election is possible with our leader Sheikh Hasina, chief of the country's biggest party, behind bars,'' acting Awami League party chief Zillur Rahman said after a meeting with the election commission.

The party also sought the lifting of emergency rules imposed by the interim government after it took over in January pledging to hold parliamentary elections by the end of next year.

The Awami League asked the commission to bar religion-based political parties from contesting the polls and those that had acted against the country's independence struggle in 1971.

The prime target of the Awami League was the Jamaat-e-Islami party which had opposed Bangladesh's independence from Pakistan.

The election commission has been holding talks with various political parties as part of poll preparations.

It was also due to invite one of the two factions of the now divided Bangladesh Nationalist party, led by jailed ex-prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia, to discuss its election plans.

An Awami League official quoted Chief Election Commissioner ATM.

Shamsul Huda as saying that the state of emergency would have to be lifted for the election to be held.

Besides the two former prime ministers, more than 170 other politicians including dozens of former ministers have been detained in the countrywide anti-corruption drive.

The Bangladesh High Court granted bail on Sunday to Hasina in a second extortion case and asked the government to explain within the next eight weeks why placing the case under emergency power rules should not be declared unlawful.

However, Hasina was unlikely to be freed immediately as the government prosecutor's office said it would appeal against the bail order as soon as possible.

Hasina, who was prime minister between 1996 and 2001, was arrested on July 16 on charges of extorting 80 million taka (1.16 million dollar) from two businessmen during her tenure.

Her lawyers say an alleged offence perpetrated several years ago cannot be placed under emergency power rules, as the emergency was itself imposed on January this year.

REUTERS ARB RAI1830

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