B'desh poll body invites ex-PM's rebels to talks

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DHAKA, Nov 5 (Reuters) Former Bangladesh prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia, in detention on corruption charges, has been dealt a fresh blow after the election commission invited rebels in her party to discuss preparations for upcoming polls.

''The commission has invited the new leadership which emerged in the BNP recently to a dialogue due on Nov 22,'' Humayun Kabir, secretary of the election commission, told reporters, referring to the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

He said it had been decided by the commission that acting party president Saifur Rahman and secretary-general Hafizuddin Ahmed were now running the party.

Saifur and Hafizuddin are the former finance minister and commerce minister respectively. They were also among Khaleda's trusted lieutenants.

''By this unfair invitation the election commission has dragged itself into controversy,'' said party office secretary Rizvi Ahmed, who remains loyal to Khaleda.

The country's army-backed interim authority plans parliamentary elections before the end of next year and the commission is holding talks with different parties on the best way to achieve a free and fair vote.

Khaleda and her main rival, Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League, are in jail facing charges of corruption and abuse of power, which they have denied.

They are among more than 170 people detained in an anti-corruption drive launched by the interim government that took charge in January following months of political violence.

REUTERS PD PK KP1959

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