Page last updated at 17:31 GMT, Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Bangladesh 'will lift emergency'

Soldiers in Dhaka
Troops deployed to enforce the emergency will soon return to barracks

Bangladesh's army-backed interim government has announced that it will lift the state of emergency next week.

The emergency has been in place for almost two years and will be lifted on 17 December, ahead of general elections 12 days later, ministers say.

Bangladesh has been under emergency rule since January 2007. It has meant that political campaigning and mass rallies have been banned.

Both main parties had demanded its removal ahead of the polls.

They argued that the vote - the first in seven years - would not be credible if restrictions were in place.

'No obstacle'

Government minister Hussain Zillur Rahman said that Wednesday's announcement cleared the way for free and fair elections.

"The emergency will be fully withdrawn from 17 December while all restrictions on holding meetings and rallies by political parties will be lifted from 12 December," he said.

International and domestic commentators - including Western diplomats - also called for the emergency to be lifted, arguing that Bangladeshi democracy could not function properly while it remained in place.

In November the government delayed the election by a few days after the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia demanded a postponement.

Both the BNP and the Awami League - led by another former Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina - had campaigned vigorously for an end to the emergency.

Am Awami League spokesman welcomed the government's decision, saying there would now be "no obstacle for free and fair polls".

The emergency was imposed following violent clashes between the BNP and Awami League.

Since then the interim government has introduced major electoral and political reforms, including a drive against corruption which at one point resulted in both Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia being detained on graft charges.

Both women were released on bail in deals with the government to ensure their parties took part in the elections.

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