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Page last updated at 09:40 GMT, Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Hasina urges rival to accept poll

Sheikh Hasina gives a victory sign after casting her vote in Dhaka, Bangladesh, 29 December 2008

The winner of the first parliamentary elections in Bangladesh for seven years has urged her defeated rival to accept the official results.

Sheikh Hasina's Awami League won a landslide victory on Monday in a poll monitors said was "credible".

But former prime minister Khaleda Zia, who leads the rival Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), has rejected the results saying the vote was rigged.

Sheikh Hasina has offered cabinet posts to the BNP in return for cooperation.

'Peace over terrorism'

Sheikh Hasina told a news conference in the capital, Dhaka, that Ms Zia should accept defeat.

"I think she should accept the people's verdict because this election is a free, fair and transparent election," she told reporters.

Celebrating Awami League supporters
The Awami League victory sparked scenes of jubilation on the streets

Sheikh Hasina described her party's win as a "victory of good governance over misrule... and peace over terrorism".

She said that her government's first priorities would be to lower the price of food and reduce power cuts.

The Awami League leader also said that she wanted to work with Ms Zia and the BNP, which has alleged that the Election Commission was responsible for rigging the vote.

Sheikh Hasina said: "We call upon all who participated in the election, that in a parliamentary election, we can all work together. I'm ready to work with everybody."

She said she would be willing to offer cabinet posts to opposition lawmakers as long as they accepted the election outcome.

The BBC's Mark Dummett in Dhaka says that some Bangladeshis are concerned that the Awami League might abuse its power, as it has such an enormous majority in parliament.

A campaign against corruption last year saw both main party leaders, and many of their most prominent colleagues arrested. But Sheikh Hasina said her government would work for the people.

"Our party, our people will never misuse or abuse power, because… from 1996 to 2001 the Awami League was in power and that period was the golden period of Bangladesh, in all aspects, so we have our commitment to the people, we want to ensure people have a better life."

Our correspondent says that Sheikh Hasina's government faces huge challenges and will find it hard to meet people's high expectations. It starts work next week.

'Transparent'

Separately, monitors from the Commonwealth nations said that the vote, which ended two years of rule by an army-backed caretaker government, had been fair.

Khaleda Zia
Ms Zia has rejected the poll results

The monitors said in a statement that the vote, which saw a massive turnout, had "been credible .. [and] the tabulation and results processes were transparent".

The monitors urged leaders to work together to tackle the country's problems.

"It is a time for leaders on all sides to grasp this opportunity and display statesmanship," the statement said.

Election officials said that the party of Sheikh Hasina had secured more than 260 seats in parliament, while Ms Zia's BNP won 31.

The BNP-led alliance has complained of fraud and forgery at more than 200 polling stations.

Its complaints about the result have led to fears that Bangladesh could return to political instability and opposition boycotts of parliament that have characterised political life in the country over the past 20 years.

The win for the Awami League is a dramatic reversal in fortunes for the two parties, our correspondent says. In 2001, the BNP won the election overwhelmingly.

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