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Bangladesh suspends state of emergency for vote

Latest update : 2008-12-17

An almost two-year-old state of emergency was lifted by Bangladesh's army-backed government on Wednesday, in a move that is being hailed as a major step toward free, democratic elections on December 29.

AFP - Bangladesh's army-backed government Wednesday scrapped a state of emergency that had been in place for nearly two years and ramped up security across the country ahead of elections in 12 days.

Bangladesh's police chief, Nur Mohammad, confirmed a presidential order to lift the emergency at one minute past midnight had been fulfilled.

Commentators hailed the move by the interim authorities as a major step in restoring democracy to the poor South Asian nation, which has had a history of coups and counter-coups since winning independence from Pakistan in 1971.

"Emergency out, rights in," blared the biggest English-language newspaper, The Daily Star, rejoicing that "the nation today finds its fundamental rights reinstated after around two long years."

The measure repeals laws that have been in place since emergency rule was imposed 23 months ago on January 11, 2007, after months of violent nationwide political strikes had brought the country to a standstill.

"There is no emergency after one minute past midnight (18:01 GMT Tuesday)," police chief Mohammad said.

"We have already mobilised extra security," Mohammad added. "I am confident the situation will stay stable, and campaigns and voting will take place in a peaceful atmosphere."

Many emergency provisions, which banned political gatherings, had already been relaxed in recent months, while political campaigning had been permitted since Friday.

The December 29 election will finally see caretaker authorities hand back power to a democratically elected government to steer the impoverished nation of 144 million people.

Since coming to power, the army-backed regime has pushed through political reforms, including a election register which eliminated more than 12.7 million fake names.

The government also launched a corruption crackdown which saw Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina Wajed and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) counterpart Khaleda Zia detained for a year on graft charges.

Both women have been released on bail in deals to ensure their parties, the biggest in the country, take part in the elections.

Political commentators say Sheikh Hasina is favourite to win.

Scrapping the emergency rule completely had been a key demand of the Awami League and BNP, who threatened to boycott the vote if restrictions remained in place.

International and domestic commentators, including western diplomats, also called for an end to the curbs.

Some 300,000 police and paramilitary personnel are to be deployed at more than 35,000 polling stations during the vote, the first in seven years.

At least 35 people were killed in unrest during the three months before the state of emergency was imposed by President Iajuddin Ahmed.

He also cancelled elections slated for January 2007 after the Awami League and its allies accused the BNP-led government of vote-rigging.

English daily The New Age -- an outspoken critic of the current regime -- said the emergency had "suspended civil and political rights."

"Emergency ends," the private said, adding that "two years of restrictions on civil and political rights" had been lifted.

Date created : 2008-12-17