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Bangladesh reform talks in critical phase

Written by: Staff

DHAKA, Oct 24 (Reuters) Four days before Bangladesh Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia is due to transfer power to an interim authority, the government and opposition leaders remain poles apart on reforms to make the next election free and fair.

Both sides said today they were yet to agree on any of 31 electoral reforms opposition leader Sheikh Hasina proposed to ensure fair voting in polls due in January 2007.

The main bone of contention is the choice of the head of the caretaker authority to supervise the election.

Khaleda's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) want former chief justice KM Hasan in the post of caretaker chief, but Hasina's Awami League and allies oppose him and say he has past associations with the ruling party.

Chief Awami negotiator Abdul Jalil said he had received a telephone call from his BNP counterpart Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan offering to hold another round of talks to resolve the deadlock.

The ruling party had proposed a new name to head the caretaker administration, said Suranjit Sen Gupta, a senior member of the Awami League presidium. He didn't elaborate.

Awami leader Hasina was expected to discuss the government proposal with leaders of her 14-party alliance later today.

The other main dispute is over the opposition's demand for removal of the chief election commissioner and his deputies, who are accused of pro-BNP bias.

The opposition also wants the armed forces be put under control of the caretaker chief during the polls. Currently the country's titular President, Iajuddin Ahmed, is constitutional head of the armed forces.

''We made no headway towards agreement on any of the demands,'' a senior Awami leader said earlier on Tuesday. ''We have not been able to break any ground yet.'' A BNP leader put a more positive spin on it, saying: ''Everything will be clear after the Eid al-Fitr festival tomorrow.'' Today there is a holiday in Bangladesh following the Muslim holy month of Ramazan.

The 14-party opposition alliance said they were ready to take to the streets if their demands are not met. The BNP said they would do everything necessary to keep the streets of Dhaka and other main cities under control.

''Unless there is a miracle agreement between the feuding sides the country is surely heading into a period of serious confrontation, violence and anarchy,'' AKM Shahidullah, a senior teacher at the political science department of Dhaka University told Reuters.


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