Bangladeshi power minister removed amid protests over shortfall

DHAKA, May 21, 2006 (AFP) – The Bangladeshi prime minister Sunday removed the power minister amid growing protests over massive power shortages across the South Asian nation which faces a federal election by early 2007. Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, who heads a four-party coalition, removed Minister for Power Iqbal Hasan Mahmud and reassigned him as junior minister for agriculture, a brief government statement said without specifying a reason.

Mahmud was replaced by Anwarul Kabir Talukder, the minister for planning.

Mahmud last week told reporters the government needed at least three years to ease the growing shortfall of power that averages 700-800 megawatts daily and can spike to 1,800 megawatts, nearly half of the country’s output.

He told AFP earlier that lack of investment was the main reason for the crisis, which he forecast would grow in the next two years as no new generation plants were planned to come online while demand would increase by 500 megawatts a year.

Only 25 percent of the country’s 140 million population has access to electricity.

Many rural areas have power for only four hours a day, if at all, and Dhaka there are five to six hours of power cuts daily.

The shortages have led to