Page last updated at 10:44 GMT, Thursday, 13 November 2008

Former Bangladesh PMs due to meet

Sheikh Hasina (l) and Khaleda Zia
Sheikh Hasina (l) and Khaleda Zia - known as the 'battling begums'

The former Prime Ministers of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, say that they are ready for a rare meeting ahead of December's elections.

The two women lead the country's two main parties and are bitter rivals. They are believed to have barely spoken since the early 1990s.

Correspondents say that their intense personal animosity has paralysed Bangladeshi politics.

The interim government has repeatedly called on the pair to hold talks.

'Ready for talks'

Bangladeshi newspapers have reported that Sheikh Hasina wants an agenda for the discussions, while Khaleda Zia says the talks should not be confined to specific subjects.

"I'm always ready for dialogue, but that ought to be based on an agenda. Problems won't be solved if we just meet and have a cup of tea," Sheikh Hasina was reported by the Daily Star newspaper as saying.

A spokesman for Khaleda Zia said that she wanted "to let her countrymen know through the media that she too is ready for talks".

"There's no need for a specific agenda when the talks will be between two former prime ministers and heads of the top two political parties in the country. She thinks discussions won't be as fruitful as desired if they are subject-specific."

An advisor to the army-backed government, Hossain Zillur Rahman, said that authorities were ready to take any measure to arrange talks between the "battling begums", as they are known in Bangladesh.

The pair last sat down together in 1990 when both were at the forefront of a people's revolt to remove military ruler Hossain Mohammad Ershad.

But they fell out shortly afterwards, a hostility that has remained over the years and is reflected among their respective sets of supporters.

For much of the last two decades Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia - leaders of the Awami league and Bangladesh Nationalist Party respectively - have alternated between being prime minister and opposition leader.

When one was on a high, claiming a fair and clean election following a landslide victory, the other was on a down, complaining of poll rigging and electoral fraud.

The tension and the acrimony between them has been exacerbated because both have over the years held vice-like grips over their parties, resulting in often violent confrontations between their supporters.

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