Page last updated at 10:55 GMT, Monday, 3 September 2007 11:55 UK

Profile: Khaleda Zia

Khlaeda Zia
Khaleda Zia has been active in politics since her husband's death
Twice prime minister of Bangladesh, Khaleda Zia, like her long-term rival Sheikh Hasina, has battled back from claims of extortion and corruption to battle again for the top office.

The two women have dominated national politics for decades.

Married to liberation war hero Ziaur Rahman, who became president in 1977, Khaleda Zia was once described as a shy housewife devoted to her two sons.

But following her husband's assassination she rose to become the country's first woman prime minister. She spent 10 out of Bangladesh's 35 years since independence as head of government.

Her latest term in office ended in October 2006, amid political tension and following a wave of Islamist militancy.

She handed over to a caretaker administration that was due to take the country up to new democratic elections - polls that ended up being postponed until December 2008.

Her bitterest opponents, the Awami League led by Sheikh Hasina, accused the caretaker government of being biased in favour of Khaleda Zia.

The interim government banned most political activity and began a crackdown on high-level corruption which cut across political lines.

Khaleda Zia was arrested in 2007, following the earlier detention of Sheikh Hasina. Both women faced a number of court cases but were freed to fight the election.

Low profile

Begum Khaleda Zia was born in what is now north-western Bangladesh in 1945, in the final years of the British Raj.

In 1960 she married Rahman, then a young army officer.

Khaleda Zia
Khaleda Zia has denied any wrongdoing in face of corruption claims

Eleven years later, Rahman joined a mutiny against West Pakistani forces and declared independence for Bangladesh from Pakistan.

In 1977 he declared himself president and was later endorsed by popular vote, but was assassinated in a failed coup in 1981.

Until then Ms Zia had kept a low profile and seemed to take little interest in public life.

But as head of the party formed by her husband, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), she became a powerful opposition figure during the military rule of the 1980s and was jailed seven times.

Ms Zia was voted into office in 1991 elections which were widely considered free and fair.

Khaleda Zia in 1997
Khaleda Zia (C) leads a protest while in opposition in 1997

But since then the country's political climate has frequently been tainted by crisis and corruption.

The charges laid against Ms Zia after the interim administration took charge related to her second period in office, from 2001-06, when she allegedly used her influence to determine the operators of two state container depots in 2003.

Her younger son, Arafat Rahman Coco, was accused of pushing her to approve the deal.

The military-backed caretaker government seemed determined to neutralise both Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina.

But its anti-corruption drive ran out of steam and it underestimated the enduring popularity and strength of both party leaders.

Ms Zia has faced a huge battle to regain her political ascendancy but her BNP has put in a lot of work to peg back the lead of the Awami League.

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