Bangladesh Political Riots Leave 11 Dead

The Associated Press
Saturday, October 28, 2006; 2:23 PM

DHAKA, Bangladesh -- A retired justice whose appointment as Bangladesh's interim leader led to deadly riots declined the position on Saturday, but the political crisis that has paralyzed the country for two days appeared no closer to a resolution.

At least 11 people were killed _ including three politicians linked to the outgoing administration of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia _ and hundreds were injured in two days of violence.

Abdul Jalil, general secretary of the opposition Awami League party, said a new government would be installed by Sunday evening, but the opposition rejected both the retired justice and the president as interim leaders, leaving that timetable in doubt.

At a rally in Dhaka on Saturday, Zia restated her pledge to hand power to the caretaker government, but did not say when. She criticized the opposition for creating anarchy and asked her supporters to retaliate.

The justice who stepped aside, K.M. Hasan, was a former member of Zia's party and refused the post in response to criticism that a nonpartisan government was required to oversee upcoming elections in January.

A leader of Bangladesh's opposition, which led the drive against Hasan, said later Saturday that the party also rejected an interim government headed by the president, who was elected as a candidate of Zia's party.

"We have rejected the proposal and asked the president to find a nonpartisan person for the post," said Abdul Jalil, general secretary of the opposition Awami League party.

Zia initially had delayed handing power to a caretaker administration Saturday, saying Hasan _ a former member of Zia's party _ was ill. The opposition, however, claimed Hasan refused the post because of the protests and alleged attempts by the government to rig the upcoming elections.

Hasan, 67, said he stepped aside because of doubts about his impartiality.

"I'm doing this for the interest of the people and as a patriot who loves his country," the former justice said in a statement.

A spokesman for Bangladeshi President Iajuddin Ahmed said he would meet political leaders on Sunday to discuss who should lead the caretaker government.

Riot police fired tear gas, rubber bullets and warning shots to disperse thousands of stone-throwing protesters in the capital, Dhaka. Thousands of protesters blocked highways leading into Dhaka, cutting off the city of 10 million people from the rest of the country, TV footage showed.

Angry mobs smashed or burned vehicles and Zia's party offices, along with tires and furniture looted from nearby shops.

The riots subsided slightly after Hasan's decision to step aside, but opposition leaders said they will return to the streets again on Sunday until a nonpartisan leader is put in charge of overseeing the polls.

Zia, whose five-year term in office expired at midnight Friday, accused the opposition of creating anarchy and urged her supporters to retaliate.

Zia's last days in office have been further clouded by the defection of more than two dozen politicians from her party over alleged corruption and incompetence in her administration.

Bangladesh, an impoverished Southest Asian country, has a history of political unrest. It spent more than 15 years under military rule after its independence from Pakistan in 1971.

Both Zia and opposition leader Sheikh Hasina led a pro-democracy movement in 1990, ousting the country's last military ruler, Gen. Hossain Mohammad Ershad.

The two politicians have been locked in political bickering since then.

© 2006 The Associated Press