Khaleda Zia released from house arrest, vows to continue protest

Dhaka, Jan 19: The 17-day house arrest of Bangladesh opposition leader Khaleda Zia was on Monday lifted unexpectedly by authorities, but the defiant former premier vowed to continue nationwide blockade and demanded an inclusive poll, dashing hopes of finding a solution to the deadly political violence.

The additional police and barricade around the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chief's upmarket Gulshan district office here was removed around 3 am local time.


"They (police) first removed their vans at around 2.30 am and afterwards they left the scene along with water cannons," a BNP official told reporters adding that few policemen were left behind for routine duty.

Zia, a former two-time premier, was "confined" to her office since January 3, ahead of the BNP-led 20-party alliance's rally to mark the first anniversary of the disputed January 5 elections won by her arch-rival Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Though the 69-year-old Zia welcomed the government's decision to end her virtual house arrest, she asked her supporters to continue with the agitation despite "repression and oppression by the government".

"The government forced [us] to call the blockade. It will continue until further announcement," she said.

She also asked the government to release all her partymen, withdraw cases against them, return people's voting rights and "create atmosphere for an inclusive election".

"Otherwise, the blockade will continue," she said. The surprise move to end Zia's confinement coincided with the 79th birth anniversary of her husband and BNP's founder Ziaur Rahman.

State minister for home Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal last night said Zia would not be barred from visiting Rahman's grave and she could move anywhere after offering wreaths there. The siege around her office triggered renewed political unrest across Bangladesh that has left 28 people dead.

During the siege at the two-story building, the opposition leader called a nationwide transport blockade, with the opposition party activists firebombing buses, cars and other vehicles, leading to police retaliate by firing bullets and tear gas.

Zia wants Hasina to call fresh elections after last year's controversial poll boycotted by opposition parties. The opposition boycotted the polls over their demand to hold the polls under a neutral caretaker government.


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