Page last updated at 10:55 GMT, Wednesday, 28 May 2008 11:55 UK

Bangladesh parties decline talks

Sheikh Hasina
Sheikh Hasina says that the charges are a ploy to keep her from office

The two main parties of Bangladesh have said they will not take part in talks with the government until their leaders are released from detention.

The Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) say that their respective leaders - Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia - are being unjustly held.

The military-backed interim government of Bangladesh begun talks with two smaller parties last week.

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

Vehemently opposed

"We are not going to join the dialogue with the government with our leader detained over false and fabricated corruption charges," senior League leader Amir Hossain Amu told the AFP news agency.

"We will join the talks only after she is freed from jail."

Correspondents say that while many senior Awami League politicians are in favour of beginning talks with the government, the party's rank and file membership across the country is vehemently opposed to such a move.

A spokesman of the main faction of the BNP said that his party would also decline to participate in the talks.

Khaleda Zia
Khaleda Zia also denies corruption

"The dialogue will be not be meaningful and the forthcoming elections not acceptable without the presence of Khaleda Zia. There is no reason to think that we will join this dialogue," said BNP spokesman Nazrul Islam Khan.

Sheikh Hasina has been accused of extortion and misuse of power, while Khaleda Zia has been accused of accepting bribes. Both women deny all charges against them.

Credible elections

Earlier this month the interim government announced that delayed general elections will take place in the third week of December. The exact day has yet to be set.

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

All of Bangladesh's parties, including the 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 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.

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