Hunt for interim leader provokes riots in B'desh
BANGLADESH: Bangladesh's hunt for an interim government to steer the
country through to January elections turned more stressful on Sunday
after the opposition rejected the president's offer to head a caretaker
The crisis has already sparked two days of riots in the capital,
Dhaka, and other cities in which 16 people have been killed and hundreds
President Iajuddin Ahmed put himself forward at talks on Saturday
evening with senior leaders of outgoing Prime Minister Begum Khaleda
Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the main opposition Awami
The presidential gesture came after former Supreme Court chief
justice, K.M. Hasan, withdrew just hours before he was due to be sworn
in as chief of a caretaker administration. Khaleda's five-year term
ended on Friday.
A 14-party opposition alliance led by Awami chief and former prime
minister Sheikh Hasina had refused to accept Hasan in the key post
because of his past association with the BNP.
"I was prepared to serve ... the national interest, but the level of
mistrust between the political parties has made my position untenable,"
Hasan said in a statement on Saturday.
"It is best I should stand aside rather than be a hurdle to the
Under the constitution, Hasan, as the immediate past chief justice,
is first choice to head the interim administration. If he declines or is
deemed unfit, one of his predecessors, not above the age of 72, should
be chosen as an alternative.
Two other former chief justices - Mahmudul Amin Chowdhury and Hamidul
Haque - are now contenders for the post. The opposition said they had no
objection to either of them.
But the ruling BNP and its ally, the Jamaat-e-Islami party, are
believed to object to the appointment of either Chowdhury or Haque,
officials monitoring the transition said. Media carried similar reports.
The Awami League denounced what it called a BNP conspiracy. Other
parties urged the president to act prudently to avoid further
controversy and avert more violence.
"I can smell a conspiracy in the attempts to put the country's
president in charge of the interim government," Hasina told reporters
late on Saturday.
"I appeal to all Bangladeshis to remain alert and stay tuned to the
developments and face them accordingly," she said.
The president on Sunday summoned leaders of smaller parties to his
official residence to discuss the issues, a presidential spokesman said,
without giving details.
They included former military ruler Hossain Mohammad Ershad who now
heads the Jatiya Party and who recently said he might join an alliance
led by Khaleda.
Some political analysts say Iajuddin might be trying to muster the
support of "third and fourth-ranking" parties in favour of his candidacy
as the caretaker chief.
Earlier, Khaleda had told a rally in the capital that her party would
accept whatever the president decided and that all other parties should
agree to it.
Legal experts say the president can head a caretaker team only if no
retired chief justice - or non-political, non-partisan figure acceptable
to all parties - is available.
The caretaker authority's job is to steer Bangladesh to general
elections within three months of expiry of the outgoing government's
term, and then hand power to a newly elected team.
Fierce street battles between supporters of rival parties which
erupted on Friday have killed 16 people in the last two days, police and
"We are still facing a dangerously turbulent situation," said a
police officer on Sunday. "Anything may happen anytime," he told
"Bangladesh has never faced such a political dilemma in more than 20
years," said a senior government official, who asked not to be named.
Protesters blocked highways, burned vehicles, and attacked offices of
Khaleda's BNP and the homes of some ministers, police and witnesses
Communications between Dhaka and the rest of the country have been
disrupted since Friday night, officials and transport operators said.
DHAKA, Sunday, Reuters