Page last updated at 10:04 GMT, Monday, 9 June 2008 11:04 UK

Ex-Bangladesh PM 'to be released'

Sheikh Hasina
Sheikh Hasina vigorously denies corruption charges

The detained Bangladeshi opposition leader, Sheikh Hasina, will be allowed out of detention to go abroad for medical treatment, her lawyers say.

The former prime minister is currently detained on corruption charges.

Her lawyers say that the courts hearing the charges say she does not have to appear in court herself, clearing the way for her to leave Bangladesh.

Meanwhile another detained former PM, Khaleda Zia, has ruled out going abroad for medical treatment.

She said there was no need to do so as Bangladesh had many good doctors.

Khaleda Zia's comments follow reports suggesting that the interim government may allow her to go overseas to treat arthritis and knee problems.

Numerous charges

Correspondents say the likelihood is that Sheikh Hasina will be re-arrested on her return from abroad if the government gives the final go-ahead for her to leave.

In February she was taken to hospital for treatment for high blood pressure.

Khaleda Zia
Ms Zia has been accused of accepting bribes

Sheikh Hasina has been held in a special jail on the grounds of the parliament building in Dhaka since July 2007 after being accused of corruption.

"The government has decided to give her an opportunity to go abroad for treatment. She will be released through an administrative order," government prosecutor Sharfuddin Khan Mukul said.

"A court has returned her passport while four other courts have exempted her from appearing in the hearings of her corruption cases."

Mr Mukul said that she would still face charges against her and lawyers would represent her in absentia.

Her lawyer, Kamrul Islam, told the AFP news agency that she could be freed "within hours".

Thousands of supporters of Sheikh Hasina's Awami League party - in anticipation of her release - have gathered along roads leading to the national parliament complex.

Sheikh Hasina faces numerous charges, including an allegation that she and two family members received $435,000 in bribes from a businessman between 1996 and 2001.

They say that the allegations are politically motivated.

Awami League officials say that Sheikh Hasina has been reluctant to undergo treatment for her high blood pressure and ear and eye problems in Bangladesh because of security concerns.

She has been eager to get treatment in the US - where her son and daughter live - but until now has been prevented from travelling by the authorities.

Hundreds of Bangladeshi politicians, in addition to Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, are in detention facing corruption charges.

Bangladesh has been under emergency rule since January 2007 and the military-backed interim government has promised to hold elections by the end of this year.

Khaleda Zia, who heads the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, has been accused of accepting bribes when she was in power. She too denies all charges against her.

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