New jail term for Bangladesh’s Zia angers supporters

Two co-convicts in a graft case against Bangladesh opposition leader Khaleda Zia in Dhaka look out from a prison van at the premises of a special court in Dhaka on October 29, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 29 October 2018
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New jail term for Bangladesh’s Zia angers supporters

  • A small demonstration was held outside Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party headquarters in Dhaka after the sentencing
  • Zia, arch-rival of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, is already serving a five-year term imposed in February

DHAKA: Bangladesh’s imprisoned opposition leader Khaleda Zia was handed another seven years in prison Monday on corruption charges her supporters say are politically motivated to prevent her running in a general election.
Zia, arch-rival of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, is already serving a five-year term imposed in February on separate embezzlement charges.
A small demonstration was held outside Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party headquarters in Dhaka after the sentencing. The opposition has vowed nationwide marches on Tuesday.
The February verdict triggered clashes between police and thousands of BNP loyalists.
In the latest case, Judge Mohammad Akhtaruzzman found the 73-year-old Zia guilty of abuse of power and embezzling 31.5 million taka ($375,000) meant for a charity.
The verdict was handed down in a temporary court inside Dhaka Central Jail where Zia is the only inmate. Her health has deteriorated in recent months and her lawyers say she needs specialist care which has been refused by the government.
The lawyers, who boycotted the verdict, have slammed the fast-track trial as “political vengeance” by Hasina, who has been accused of stifling opponents.
“The people will never accept this judgment,” BNP secretary general Fakhrul Islam Alamgir told reporters.
Zia cannot stand in the election due at the end of the year whilst serving a jail term and time is now running out for appeals to be heard to let her run.
Zia boycotted the 2014 general election which Hasina won.
And the latest verdict throws up more hurdles for the opposition, which says 4,000 of its supporters have been arrested since September in a pre-election crackdown.
But the ruling party has agreed to hold talks on the looming election with an opposition alliance that includes the BNP, a minister announced hours after the verdict was announced. The ruling Awami League had previously rejected such talks.
The Jaitya Okya Front (United Nationa Front) has demanded that the election be held under an interim neutral government. But Awami League deputy chief and influential minister, Obaidul Qader, said his side had agreed to talks “without giving in to anyone’s pressure.”
No date has been given for the talks however. And Zia’s supporters are certain that the multiple legal cases against her and her family are intended to keep her out of the election.
Zia, widow of assassinated military dictator Ziaur Rahman, faces dozens of separate charges related to violence and corruption that her lawyers insist are baseless.
Her son and heir-apparent Tarique Rahman was jailed for life in absentia this month over a 2004 grenade attack on a Hasina political rally. Rahman lives in exile in London.
Prosecutor Khurshid A. Khan said the latest charges against Zia dated back to 2005 when she was serving her second term as prime minister of the Muslim-majority nation of 160 million.
“We finally got justice, despite some delay,” he told AFP.
The new guilty verdict comes at a time when the independence of Bangladesh’s judiciary is under question.
In a recent memoir, a former chief justice alleged he was forced into exile last year after disagreeing with Bangladesh’s powerful intelligence services over a case.
Another judge, who now lives in Malaysia, alleged in a television interview that he was threatened to order a guilty verdict against Rahman.


Seoul: North Korea withdrew staff from liaison office

Updated 22 March 2019
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Seoul: North Korea withdrew staff from liaison office

  • The second US-North Korea summit in Vietnam collapsed due to disputes over US-led sanctions on the North
  • The South Korean statement calls the North’s decision “regrettable”

SEOUL: North Korea abruptly withdrew its staff from an inter-Korean liaison office in the North on Friday, Seoul officials said.
The development will likely put a damper on ties between the Koreas and complicate global diplomacy on the North’s nuclear weapons program. Last month, the second US-North Korea summit in Vietnam collapsed due to disputes over US-led sanctions on the North.
Seoul’s Unification Ministry said that North Korea informed South Korea of its decision during a meeting at the liaison office at the North Korean border town of Kaesong on Friday.
The North said it “is pulling out with instructions from the superior authority,” according to a Unification Ministry statement. It didn’t say whether North Korea’s withdrawal of staff would be temporary or permanent.
According to the South Korean statement, the North added that it “will not mind the South remaining in the office” and that it would notify the South about practical matters later. Seoul’s Vice Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung told reporters that South Korea plans to continue to staff the Kaesong liaison office normally and that it expects the North will continue to allow the South Koreans to commute to the office. He said Seoul plans to staff the office with 25 people on Saturday and Sunday.
The South Korean statement calls the North’s decision “regrettable.” It said South Korea urges the North to return its staff to the liaison office soon.
The liaison office opened last September as part of a flurry of reconciliation steps. It is the first such Korean office since the peninsula was split into a US-backed, capitalistic South and a Soviet-supported, socialist North in 1945. The Koreas had previously used telephone and fax-like communication channels that were often shut down in times of high tension.
The town is where the Korea’s now-stalled jointly run factory complex was located. It combined South Korean initiatives, capital and technology with North Korea’s cheap labor. Both Koreas want the US to allow sanctions exemptions to allow the reopening of the factory park, which provided the North with much-needed foreign currency.