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B'deshi lawmakers quit govt to form new party

BANGLADESH: Thirteen Bangladeshi lawmakers including two ministers have defected from the government to launch a new party to challenge almost two decades of rule by the country's two main parties in January 2007 elections.

The Liberal Democratic Party launched Thursday, headed by former president Badruddoza Chowdhury and Oli Ahmed, a former minister with the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

Joint secretary general Firoz M. Hasan said the 13 one-time BNP stalwarts wanted to challenge the country's two main parties, the BNP and the opposition Awami League, which have alternated in power since 1990.

Following the announcement, police in the northwestern district of Naogaon said they were investigating a suspicious fire at the home of one of the departing BNP lawmakers, former junior minister for women and children Alamgir Kabir.

A building under construction at the lawmaker's constituency home was set alight, destroying furniture and a nearby parked car, said police sub inspector Akram Hossen.

The launch of the new party came as a deadlock between the government and opposition over election reforms threatened to jeopardise January's parliamentary polls.

The main opposition Awami League and its 13 leftist allies have threatened to boycott the polls unless the BNP replaces the proposed interim administration chief and top election officials they accuse of being pro-government.

Chowdhury served as president until June 2002, when lawmakers from the BNP, which leads Bangladesh's four-party coalition government, passed a vote of no confidence in him after he put off a visit to the grave of the BNP founder, assassinated president Ziaur Rahman.

A 2004 bid by Chowdhury to launch a "third way" in Bangladesh politics ended in mob violence.

Meanwhile Bangladeshi Prime Minister Khaleda Zia will address the nation to mark the end of her government's five-year term.

An interim administration that will oversee January's national vote was expected to take over from Zia's coalition government, an official from the country's Election Commission said.

The main opposition Awami League announced that it would "paralyse" the country with protests starting Saturday over the government's failure to back down on the appointment of a former party official as head of the caretaker government.

Dhaka, Friday, AFP

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