(AFP) – May 12, 2008
DHAKA (AFP) — The head of Bangladesh's military-backed government said Monday that national elections would be held in the third week of December, 16 months after a state of emergency was imposed.
Since taking power in January 2007, the government has repeatedly pledged to hold the polls by the end of 2008 after completing a crackdown on corruption.
"National elections will be held on any day in the third week of December this year," Chief Adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed said in a televised address.
Ahmed added that a ban on "indoor politics" would be lifted and said the state of emergency would end at a "timely" point before the polls.
Media reports said the government had issued a notification relaxing the ban. The move means political parties could hold meetings starting Tuesday, said the private UNB news agency.
The resumption of limited political activity would be allowed only subject to conditions, including notifying officials of meetings of up to 200 people, the agency said.
Bangladesh has been under emergency rule since January 2007, when elections scheduled for later that month were cancelled.
The crisis followed months of political unrest over vote-rigging allegations against the outgoing ruling party.
Under its anti-graft drive, the interim government has arrested and jailed scores of high-profile politicians on corruption charges.
They include the two most recent prime ministers -- Sheikh Hasina Wajed of the Awami League, and Khaleda Zia, whose Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led a coalition government until October 2006.
Political parties were expected to welcome the move but now face campaigning with most of their senior leaders in jail.
Both parties have been in disarray following the arrest of Zia and Sheikh Hasina, two powerful figureheads close to the hearts of many ordinary Bangladeshis.
Known as the "battling begums," the two women are strongly identified with two rival political dynasties.
Sheikh Hasina is the daughter of Bangladesh's independence leader and first president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who was assassinated in 1975.
Zia, meanwhile, is the widow of former president Ziaur Rahman, who was murdered in 1981.
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