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Political gridlock as Bangladesh opposition spurns talks

Written by: Staff
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DHAKA, Apr 29 (Reuters) Bangladesh's main opposition turned down an invitation to hold talks with the ruling party about electoral reforms today, raising the possibility of renewed political violence.

The ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) named a five-member team for the talks, angering the opposition by including Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid, general secretary of Jamaat-e-Islami party, and Mufti Fazlul Haque Amini, chief of Islami Oikyo Jote, both Islamic fundamentalist groups.

Jamaat and the Oikyo Jote are partners in Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia's coalition government and their support is crucial in the next parliamentary election due in January 2007.

The opposition accuses Jamaat of helping the Pakistani army during Bangladesh's 1971 war of independence against Pakistan and more lately of harbouring Islamist militants.

The Oikyo Jote is blamed for siding with the Pakistanis against Bengali nationalists during the 1971 war.

Both groups deny the charges.

''We have received the names forwarded by the BNP late last night, but talking with them with the participation of the enemies of the country is out of question,'' said Abdul Jalil, general secretary of Awami League, headed by former prime minister Sheikh Hasina.

Bangladesh has been rocked in recent months by a series of Islamist bomb attacks, including suicide bombings. At least 30 people have been killed and 150 wounded since August.

Two outlawed groups -- Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen and Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh -- are blamed for the series of attacks and have sought to introduce Islamic Sharia law in Bangladesh.

Hasina says they are off-shoots of the Jamaat-e-Islami.

''By handing their list of participants, the BNP has shut the door to long-awaited dialogue,'' Awami senior leader Tafayel Ahmed told reporters.

''The country is facing a deep-rooted conspiracy by the BNP and its Islamist partners, who opposed the country's independence and are now trying to ruin it,'' said Hasanul Haque Inu, chief of Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal, an Awami ally.

The reform proposals put forward last month by Hasina included changes to the country's system of pre-poll caretaker administration and to the election commission.

Hasina said the changes were needed to make the next parliamentary polls free and impartial and to strengthen democracy.

REUTERS PG KN1457

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