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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 January 2008, 10:08 GMT
Trial of ex-Bangladesh PM delayed
Sheikh Hasina in a file photo from July 2006
Sheikh Hasina backers say charges are a ploy to keep her from office
The extortion trial of the former Bangladeshi Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, has opened and been adjourned in the capital, Dhaka.

Sheikh Hasina and members of her family deny receiving payments of about $440,000 from a businessman while in power from 1996 to 2001.

But the case has been delayed until Monday to allow defence lawyers time to meet her and discuss her defence.

Another former Prime Minister, Khaleda Zia, also faces corruption charges.

She too denies taking bribes while in office, and is being detained in accommodation within the parliamentary complex nearby her great rival Sheikh Hasina.

The two women - leaders of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Awami League respectively - alternated as leaders of the country for 15 years until October 2006.

'Prepare ourselves'

The Dhaka Metropolitan Sessions judge, Mohammad Azizul Haque, on Sunday charged Sheikh Hasina and her cousin Sheikh Selim, a former minister in her cabinet, with illegally taking the money.

Khaleda Zia
Khaleda Zia also denies corruption

Sheikh Hasina's only sister, Sheikh Rehana, is also accused - but she is now living abroad and has been declared an absconder by police. They say her trial will go ahead in her absence.

"We will prepare ourselves in the next three days," Sheikh Hasina's defence lawyer told reporters on Thursday.

The former prime minister also faces a second charge - for which she is due to appear in court soon - that she extorted $727,802 from another businessman during her term in office. She also denies that charge.

If they lose their court cases, both Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia almost certainly will be banned from participating in the election that the military-backed interim government has promised to hold before the end of the year.

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