Page last updated at 12:25 GMT, Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Bangladesh lifts emergency rule

Vendor with Bangladesh flags
The general election is set for 29 December

Bangladesh's army-backed interim government has lifted a two-year state of emergency ahead of the general election on 29 December.

President Iajuddin Ahmed signed the order earlier in the week.

Lifting curbs on political and civil rights and press freedom was a key demand of the main political parties.

Full campaigning began last Friday with Khaleda Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) taking on the Awami League, led by her old rival Sheikh Hasina.

Both women are former prime ministers. They have both faced corruption allegations and were released on bail in deals with the government to ensure their parties took part in the elections.

Army chief's pledge

The emergency was imposed in January 2007 to tackle street violence that left dozens dead after allegations of voting irregularities.

Bangladesh celebrates Victory Day
Tuesday brought Bangladeshis on to the streets for Victory Day

Inspector general of police Nur Mohammad told the AFP: news agency: "There is no emergency after one minute past midnight [Tuesday]."

Earlier on Tuesday, the day Bangladesh marked its independence in 1971, army chief Gen Moeen U Ahmed said in a televised address: "The Bangladesh army, playing a great peacekeeping role under the UN command, is not eager to assume a political role.

"Rather we would like to see Bangladesh achieve a democratic government through a fair and credible election. We would help the [civilian] government by all means."

For the past two years the government has insisted that it needed to keep the emergency in place so that the run up to the polls would be peaceful.

Some of the emergency laws, restricting political meetings and large public gatherings, had already been relaxed.

But the political parties said they would not take part in the elections unless the government gave up all of its emergency powers, which among other things, gave it the right to hold anyone without charge for an indefinite period.

The parties say that the army-backed government has frequently abused these powers - but it says that the laws were needed to keep Bangladesh's violent political rivals apart.


The Election Commission said this week that security would be tightened from Thursday for the elections amid fears that Islamic militants might try to disrupt them.

To prevent any trouble in the last two weeks of the campaign, the army will be out in force in city centres.

Election commissioner Shakawat Hossain said 300,000 security personnel would be deployed at 35,000 polling stations for voting.

National police chief Nur Mohammad said: "I am confident the situation will stay stable and campaigns and voting will take place in a peaceful atmosphere."

The government last month announced a short delay in the elections following BNP complaints.

But restrictions on political rallies were lifted last Friday and both of the main parties have held large rallies.

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