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Bangla talks hit new snag over Islamic party

Written by: Staff

Dhaka, Apr 7: Feuding Bangladesh political parties have agreed in principle to hold talks over electoral reform proposals made by former prime minister Sheikh Hasina.

But the deal hit an immediate hurdle when the the opposition asked the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) to exclude its coalition partner, Jamaat-e-Islami party, from the talks.

The opposition accuses Jamaat-e-Islami of helping the Pakistani army in a genocide during Bangladesh's 1971 war of independence against Pakistan, and more lately of harbouring Islamist militants fighting for introduction of Islamic sharia law in Bangladesh.

Jamaat denies the charges.

''We cannot sit for a dialogue with the BNP if Jamaat put up a representative there,'' said Tofayel Ahmed, a senior leader of Hasina's Awami League and a former minister.

''Since we represent an alliance in the government, it is quite natural that components will have a partner in the dialogue with the opposition,'' BNP secretary general Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan said.

It would be difficult for the BNP to exclude Jamaat, the country's biggest Islamic party, from the talks, analysts said.

No party in the opposition alliance, other than Awami League, has representation in the current assembly.

The stage for the long-awaited talks was set by an exchange of letters between the BNP and Awami League over the past few weeks, but no dates have been set.

Analysts say a positive outcome would have a strong impact on Bangladesh's parliamentary polls in January 2007, in which BNP chief Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia and Hasina are expected to be the main contenders.


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