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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 July 2007, 12:25 GMT 13:25 UK
Bangladesh ex-PM formally charged
Sheikh Hasina outside court

The former Bangladeshi Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, has been formally charged by police with extortion.

The case against her relates to a payment she allegedly received for an electricity contract issued during her period in office eight years ago.

Sheikh Hasina, her sister and her cousin are named in court papers as receiving thousands of dollars.

The former PM, who denies wrongdoing, has been remanded in custody. She faces at least two other extortion cases.

She argues that the charges against her are politically motivated, and have been initiated to block her from standing in future elections.

Sheikh Hasina was arrested last week after a raid on her house in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka.

She was not in court on Tuesday when police filed the charges.

'Rights violated'

The corruption charges relating to her time in office from 1996 to 2001. She has also been accused over the killings of four political rivals.

Meanwhile police say that they have launched an inquiry into the circumstances of her arrest.

Dhaka Additional Police Commissioner Mohammad Moniruzzaman told the AFP news agency that his officers would investigate after the appearance of complaints in the media about the way the arrest was conducted.

Khaleda Zia
Khaleda Zia has called for her Awami League rival's release

Officials from Sheikh Hasina's Awami League party say that police did not show an arrest warrant before searching her home, and that she was taken to court without a summons against her.

Her detention has angered many of her supporters, who have staged protests.

"Her personal rights were violated. Police also seized her bullet-proof Mercedes Benz car. What is the relation between the allegations against her and this? The entire circumstances of the arrest were unlawful," Sheikh Hasina's personal secretary Hasan Mahmud told AFP.

On Monday, six UK politicians called for her release, arguing that she posed no conceivable security risk and should be freed on bail so she could prepare her defence.

Root out corruption

Sheikh Hasina is the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who led Bangladesh to independence from Pakistan in 1971.

Sheikh Hasina. File photo
Sheikh Hasina vigorously protests her innocence

Her bitter rival, Bangladesh Nationalist Party leader Khaleda Zia, also faces criminal charges and has been ordered to appear before a court by 26 August over tax evasion allegations.

Last week, Ms Zia demanded the immediate release of her rival.

Since January this year, Bangladesh has been governed by a military-backed emergency government, which has promised to root out corruption.

More than 150 prominent politicians, civil servants and businessmen have been arrested.

The government says elections will be held before the end of 2008.

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