Bangladesh police arrest former prime minister
DHAKA, Bangladesh – Police in Bangladesh arrested the country’s former prime minister on corruption charges on Monday, the latest in a series of moves by the nation’s military-backed government to undermine a political elite widely viewed as corrupt.The interim government canceled elections earlier this year after months of politically motivated violence, and analysts say it appears determined to keep Bangladesh’s two main political parties – and the pair of women who dominate them – from power when it restores democracy next year.Former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, whose term ended in October, was arrested at her home in the Bangladeshi capital hours after a case was filed by an anti-corruption official against her and her youngest son, Arafat Rahman Coco, Dhaka Metropolitan Police official Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman told The Associated Press by phone.She was brought to court later in the morning, and insisted she and her son were innocent.”This is a conspiracy to tarnish the image of my family and my party. We have done nothing wrong,” Zia told the court before being jailed pending trial. Her son was ordered held for seven days for questioning.The makeshift jail where Zia was taken is just a few blocks from where her archrival and another ex-premier, Sheikh Hasina, has been held since July on extortion charges.Zia is accused of misusing her power by awarding contracts to a local company, Global Agro Trade Company, when she was in office in 2003. Coco allegedly influenced his mother to approve the deal.The complaint said Zia’s administration did not follow standard procedure in awarding the company work involving two cargo terminals, one in Dhaka’s Kamlapur Railway Station and another in the country’s main Chittagong seaport.Zia’s elder son, Tarique Rahman, was arrested on charges of extortion in March. Rahman, a senior leader of Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party, is now in jail awaiting trial.A case was filed separately late Sunday against Hasina on charges of taking a bribe in return to allow a company to build a power plant when she was in power in 1997, a police official said.Hasina, a bitter rival of Zia, is accused of taking $435,000 from the Khulna Power Company Ltd. to approve the project, Dhaka Metropolitan Police official Jane Alam told reporters. She and her Awami League party have denied the allegation.She faces three other charges of extortion and has been in jail awaiting trial since July 16.Bangladesh has been ruled since mid-January by an interim government installed by the military after 30 people were killed in political clashes following the end of Zia’s term. National elections planned for Jan. 22 were canceled. A state of emergency is in force in the South Asian nation, barring all political gatherings.The government, led by a former central bank governor, has vowed to fight corruption, reform electoral rules and clean up the nation’s factional and often violent politics before holding the next elections.Zia and Hasina have dominated Bangladesh’s politics since their joint campaign ended years of military rule and restored democracy to their impoverished nation in 1990. The two women head the country’s two biggest parties and their supporters have frequently engaged in deadly street clashes, undermining the country’s stability.”The arrests of the two leaders indicate that the campaign is more politically motivated than targeting corruption,” said Bazlur Rahman, editor of Dhaka’s Sangbad daily.At least six former ministers from both Hasina’s Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party have already been tried for corruption and misuse of power.Bangladesh, an impoverished nation of 150 million people, has been ranked as one of the world’s most corrupt countries by the Berlin-based anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International.
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