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Tuesday, 27 November, 2001, 13:45 GMT
Bangladeshi opposition leader loses protection
Hasina with honour guard
Hasina's special security arrangements look to be shortlived
By the BBC's Waliur Rahman in Dhaka

The Bangladesh Government has approved a bill repealing a law which guaranteed lifelong security to the former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her sister, Sheikh Rehana.

The bill was approved by the cabinet of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia on Tuesday.

Officials say the bill is expected to be placed in the current session of the parliament very soon.

The saga began early in 2001 when the previous government under Sheikh Hasina passed the Father of the Nation Family Members Security Act.

That law provided lifelong protection for Sheikh Hasina and her sister, even if and when Sheikh Hasina left office.

Security was to be provided by the elite Special Security Force (SSF) whose responsibility is to protect the serving president and prime minister.

Historical dispute

Sheikh Hasina's government recognised her father, Bangladesh's founding president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, as the Father of the Nation.

She and Sheikh Rehana are the two surviving members of Rahman's family after he and most of his family members were killed in a military coup in 1975.

Bangladesh troops
Soldiers have played a political role in Bangladesh
The move to guarantee lifelong state protection was bitterly criticised by Mrs Zia' s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) then in opposition but now leading the ruling coalition.

The BNP considers its founder, the late President Ziaur Rahman, rather than Mujib, as the leader who gave the call to arms in March 1971, which triggered the war of independence.

The act providing protection to Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Rehana was passed after Hasina's government put 15 former army officers on trial for killing Sheikh Mujib.

12 of them were given the death sentence by a trial court and their appeal is now pending in the higher court.

Eight of the convicts are still at large.

While enacting the law, Sheikh Hasina's government argued that high-level security by the SSF was needed for the surviving members of Sheikh Mujib's family.

The reason cited was that the absconding convicts were still allegedly trying to kill Hasina and Rehana.

Violent past

Political violence has been a part of Bangladesh's history since it won independence from Pakistan in a nine-month war in 1971.

Six years after Sheikh Mujib's assassination, President Ziaur Rahman, the current Prime Minister's husband, was killed in an abortive coup led by another army general.

Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia have headed successive elected governments after the fall of the last military ruler, General H M Ershad, in 1990.

But in opposition, both have campaigned against each other by boycotting the parliament, calling a series of damaging strikes, and leading violent agitation.

The two women are believed not to think very highly of each other and have avoided speaking for years.

Their mutual antipathy is often reflected in the way their parties and supporters treat each other.

There has been no immediate comment from the opposition Awami League on the government's latest move to scrap the law providing special protection to Sheikh Mujib's daughters.

See also:

02 Oct 01 | South Asia
Analysis: A tale of two women
17 Jun 01 | South Asia
Bangladesh hunts party office bombers
01 Apr 01 | South Asia
Violence hits Bangladesh
19 Jun 01 | South Asia
US condemns Bangladesh violence
14 Nov 01 | South Asia
Opposition slams new president
07 Nov 01 | South Asia
Bangladesh remembers a mutiny
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