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Bangladesh politicians closer to reform talks

Written by: Staff

DHAKA, June 29 (Reuters) Bangladesh's ruling party and the opposition have come closer to holding talks on electoral reforms, officials said, but the rare bonhomie between the parties was marred by fresh squabbling between their leaders.

The secretary-general of the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan, told parliament yesterday that he would drop leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami party from a panel to discuss the reforms.

This was in response to a demand from the main opposition Awami League party, which welcomed the move. But it had more demands.

Abdul Hamid, deputy leader of the Awami League, welcomed Bhuiyan's ''change of position'', but said the BNP should also drop a nominee of the smaller, radical Islami Oikyo Jote (IOJ).

''Now they (BNP) have taken a major step ahead, they can probably take a smaller one, too,'' Hamid told reporters late yesterday.

Jamaat and IOJ are partners in Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia's coalition government. The Awami League accuses them of opposing Bangladesh's 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.

More recently, it has also blamed the Jamaat for harbouring Islamist militants who killed at least 30 people and wounded 150 in countrywide bomb attacks between August and December 2005.

As Bhuiyan and Hamid praised each other for showing political foresight and tolerance, Khaleda and Awami chief Sheikh Hasina traded charges in parliament yesterday.

The two women, whose feuding is legendary in Bangladesh, accused each other of seeking power by dubious means.

''The prime minister is plotting to cripple democracy and eventually make herself president of the country tp perpetuate her rule and cling to power,'' Hasina said. ''They (BNP) are also making a blueprint to steal votes.'' Khaleda replied: ''The opposition acts out of suspicion that they have no support to win the next election and as such they are out to destroy democracy and plunge the country into chaos and anarchy.'' ''I have no intention to become president ... as prime minister I have led the country to progress and development. The opposition is just envious of our successes.'' The two are leading their parties in the next general elections due in January 2007.

A 14-party opposition alliance led by former prime minister Hasina wants the election chief and his deputies immediately removed for their alleged pro-government bias and a say in choosing the chief of a caretaker administration to supervise the coming polls.

The government has rejected the demands, but says it is willing to negotiate.

Khaleda will hand over power to the caretaker authority in October, at end of her five-year term in power.

Reuters SY DB1109

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