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Profile: Sheikh Hasina

Sheikh Hasina
Sheikh Hasina has had a mercurial political career
The life of Bangladesh Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina, almost from her childhood, has been characterised by a series of highs and lows.

The highs included witnessing as a child her father's release from imprisonment in Pakistan to become Bangladesh's first president and her own stint as prime minister in which she was undisputed leader of her country and her Awami League.

On the other side, she had to bear the murder of her father and other members of her family during a coup in 1975, her own ignominious fall from power as prime minister and more recently her arrest and imprisonment on corruption charges.

Sheikh Hasina was born in September 1947 with politics in her blood.

She stepped into the limelight following the 1975 murders - she and her sister, Sheikh Rehana, are only believed to have escaped because they were in Germany at the time. Three of her brothers were killed in the attack.

Awami League supporters
Sheikh Hasina has always managed to garner support on the street

The dynastical nature of South Asian politics - the Bhuttos in Pakistan, the Nehru-Gandhi family in India and the Bandaranaikes in Sri Lanka - meant it was almost inevitable that she would forge a similar career path, especially because she had already established a reputation as a student leader at Dhaka University in the run-up to independence in 1971.

Forced into exile following her father's murder, she retuned in 1981 to campaign against the military government of Gen Hossain Mohammad Ershad and spent much of that decade in and out of prison or under house arrest.

After the fall of Gen Ershad, Bangladesh's first elections were held in 1991. They were won by her rival, the leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), Khaleda Zia.

By that time the two women had little time for each other, principally because Ms Zia claimed that her husband, Ziaur Rahman, was Bangladesh's true independence hero - not Sheikh Mujib.

The animosity between the two women has if anything grown more bitter over the years as their respective parties alternated in and out power.

Critics say that before and after elections, neither leader was ever prepared to entertain the notion they might lose, and both have over the years shown no scruples about using dirty tactics to undermine their opponents.


Sheikh Hasina's first taste of power came in June 1996, when she was elected prime minister. She earned credit for signing a water-sharing deal with India and a peace deal with tribal insurgents in the south-east of the country.

But at the same time her government was criticised for numerous allegedly corrupt business deals and for being too subservient to India.

Sheikh Hasina was voted out of office in 2001, complaining of a rigged vote. In opposition for a second time, she escaped an assassination attempt in Dhaka which resulted in the deaths of 21 party supporters in 2004.

But her ability to get her supporters out on to the streets remained undiminished. She succeeded in delaying elections scheduled for January 2007 - precipitating a state of emergency - by complaining that they would have been rigged in favour of the BNP.

During nearly two years of military-backed interim government, Sheikh Hasina survived efforts to force her into exile and numerous court cases in which she was accused of corruption during her time in power. She spent about a year in detention and was only let out in late 2008 for medical treatment in the US.

But a combination of her support on the streets and her own iron determination meant that both initiatives came to nought.

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