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Page last updated at 11:43 GMT, Thursday, 22 May 2008 12:43 UK

Bangladesh election talks begin

Voters queue for registration in Bangladesh
The government says that its determined the vote is free and fair

The military-backed interim government of Bangladesh has begun talks with two smaller parties, officials say.

The authorities say the discussions are part of a roadmap to restore democracy in the country.

They follow an announcement earlier in May that delayed general elections will take place in the third week of December. A date has yet to be set.

Voting was due in January last year, but postponed after political violence led to a state of emergency.

Chief government spokesman Syed Fahim Monaem told the AFP news agency that caretaker leader Fakhruddin Ahmed had opened Thursday's talks.

Officials say that he will meet all the parties in the weeks to come.

'Critical'

"I believe that the dialogue will yield good results for everyone. We want to hold a free, fair and credible election and have a transition to true democracy," Mr Ahmed told reporters before the talks started.

Interim commerce minister Hussain Zillur Rahman has also described the talks as "crucial for the country's future".

All of Bangladesh's parties, including the main Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the Awami League, which alternately ruled the country between 1991 and 2006, have been invited to join the dialogue.

The state of emergency has been in place in the country for the last 16 months.

Hundreds of politicians, including two former prime ministers - Khaleda Zia of the BNP and Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League - have been arrested on corruption charges.

Observers say the government wants the parties to reorganise and choose new leaders - which it argues is essential if credible elections are to be held.

Parties are also being asked to change the way they are run, to open up their accounts to independent auditors and to agree to a code of conduct.




SEE ALSO
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27 Feb 08 |  South Asia
Q&A: Bangladesh crisis
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