(Correcting the date of release in first para)

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Dhaka, Sep 11 (UNI) Bangladesh's former prime minister and Chairperson of the BNP Khaleda Zia was released yesterday on bail after spending over a year in prison.

She ruled the country twice as Prime Minister since 1991.

Ms Zia was arrested in September last in connection with a graft case by the current military-backed caretaker government.

Last week, the High Court granted her bail in two scam cases clearing all legal bars to her freedom.

She was detained in a makeshift jail in a highly secured parliament building complex.

The jail authorities released her here at 1135 hrs (local time).

After being released, she went straight to the grave of her husband slain president Gen (retd) Ziaur Rahman to offer prayers.

Earlier, former prime minister's two sons-- Tarique Rahman and Arafat Rahman-- arrested in connection with several scam cases were also freed on health grounds.

Witnesses said hundreds of leaders and workers of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) with red buntings and flowers, thronged the party office since morning to welcome their Party Chief after a long anxious wait.

Ms Zia walked to freedom as the activists yelled out of joy, clapped and chanted slogans.

Riding over a rousing reception by her party faithful, she drove in a motorcade to her husband's mazar smiling and waving hand to the crowds.

Ms Zia got the all clear when the High Court yesterday granted her bail for three months in the last two graft cases in connection with Canadian energy company canNiko and local container handling company Gatco deals.

The former premier faced four cases lodged by the interim regime following the political crisis that cropped up at the end of her immediate-past tenure in 1996.

She had secured interim bail in the last week of August in other two graft cases involving Zia Orphanage Trust fund embezzlement and Barapukuria Coalmine contract.

Ms Zia was arrested, along with her younger son Koko, on September 3, 2007 amid a crackdown on the political leaders after the January 11 changeover, following the political crisis over election issues.

Her elder son, Tarique Rahman, was held earlier on March 7.

Both of her sons are already free on parole for overseas treatment.

Meanwhile, the government and the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) after losing their legal battle for preventing Khaleda Zia from securing bail in all the four cases, has filed applications with the Chamber Judge of the Supreme Court for stay on operation of the High Court bail orders.

The Vacation Chamber Judge will sit on September 15 for hearing the applications, the court sources said, after receiving the last two petitions today.

In the meantime, she was released today as there was no stay on the High Court bail orders.

Last June, another ex-PM and Awami League president Sheikh Hasina was released on parole on health grounds. She was arrested in July 2007 in connection with an extortion case involving Tk 3 crore.

Ms Hasina is now in the US for treatment of her ears and eyes.


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