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Relief, hope in Bangla as new chief takes over

By Staff
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Dhaka, Jan 13: Bangladesh's powerful Awami League alliancecalled off plans for new blockades and strikes, signalling itsacceptance of a respected economist as head of an interim governmenttasked to hold disputed elections.

The decision by the Awami League-led alliance came as people onthe streets and political analysts today hailed the appointment offormer central bank governor Fakhruddin Ahmed to the post and hoped hewould succeed in forging political unity.

''Due to the changed political scenario, we are withdrawing allaction programmes,'' Awami League general-secretary Abdul Jalil saidlate yesterday. The party had vowed to boycott the elections because itsaid the government had failed to ensure they were free and fair.

A rival alliance led by previous prime minister Begum KhaledaZia's Bangladesh National Party (BNP), which ruled the country untilOctober, responded cautiously to the new appointment.

''The BNP believes in constitutional process and hopes that thecaretaker government would take necessary steps to hand over power toan elected government at the soonest,'' it said.

Ahmed was named to the job yesterday by President Iajuddin Ahmed,a day after Iajuddin stepped down from the post, put off polls anddeclared a national emergency in a bid to halt violence that has killeddozens, injured hundreds and hurt business.

Although Iajuddin imposed a night curfew and tough controls on themedia under emergency laws, they were withdrawn within 24 hoursyesterday in the face of strong condemnation.

The decisions seemed to restore a semblance of normalcy in Dhakaas armed policemen and soldiers patrolled the streets and kept vigil atkey facilities.

This week's dramatic political events came after weeks of oftenviolent protests against Iajuddin by the Awami League's former primeminister Sheikh Hasina.

Hasina had accused Iajuddin of favouring Khaleda in the run-up to the polls and had decided to boycott the vote.

Khaleda stepped down in October at the end of her five-year term.Under the constitution, a caretaker administration runs the country andhas to prepare for elections within three months.

Emergency Welcomed

As the new caretaker chief, Ahmed's first taskwould be to appoint a council of advisers and then open talks with thetwo main political alliances who have been at loggerheads over theconduct of polls, originally due on January 22.

Analysts said he was a good choice for the job.

''The general impression is that he can take charge effectivelyand hold elections in which everyone will take part,'' said GolamSarwar, editor of Jugantar, a Bengali language newspaper.

''It is a good decision but if only Iajuddin had made it earlierit would have saved the country a lot of trouble and allowed electionsto be held on time and with everyone participating,'' he said.

Ahmed, 66, taught economics at Dhaka University and later workedas a civil servant before joining the World Bank and serving it invarious capacities for over two decades.

The Princeton scholar was governor of Bangladesh's central bankfrom 2001 to 2005 and was since managing the country's apexmicro-finance organisation.

The emergency laws, introduced for the first time in 30 years, banprotests, marches, political activities on the streets and publiccriticism of the government.

But people on the streets as well as newspaper editorials welcomed the restrictions.

''These strikes and closures brought us nothing but trouble andlosses,'' said Mohammed Wahid, a 54-year-old businessman who sellssarees in a crowded Dhaka market.

''We need consensus and a positive approach to elections.

This politics of hate will get us nowhere,'' he said.

Diplomats and analysts fear that a prolonged crisis and politicaluncertainties could play into the hands of Islamist extremist groupswho have been trying to gain a bigger foothold in one of the world'smost populous Muslim nations.


Reuters

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