Bangladesh’s ex-PM Zia to be freed soon: minister

DHAKA, August 9, 2008 (AFP) – Bangladesh’s military-backed government is close to freeing ex-prime minister Khaleda Zia, a minister said Saturday, as part of an apparent deal to secure her party’s participation in December general elections. Last year the government tried to force both Sheikh Hasina and Zia into exile as part of an effort to clean up Bangladesh’s notoriously corrupt political system, but they refused to leave.

“It is in the final stage…. I hope there will be a result very soon,” commerce minister Hussain Zillur Rahman told reporters.

The army-backed government, which detained Zia in September last year as part of a nationwide corruption crackdown, released her arch-rival Sheikh Hasina Wajed — also a former premier — in June.

Sheikh Hasina, who still faces corruption charges, was allowed to travel to the United States for treatment of ear problems in an apparent deal with the government under which her Awami League party agreed to take part in the elections.

The administration is keen to ensure the participation of the Awami League and Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) — Bangladesh’s two main political parties — to ensure that the polls planned for December are credible.

Both parties had r