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Bangladesh Army-backed government detains ex-prime minister

Bangladesh's leaders now are holding two former prime ministers, and myriad other politicians, in custody.

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Bangladesh's former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia was arrested Monday on corruption charges as an Army-backed interim government extends its crackdown on the political elite. She was arrested at her home in the capital, Dhaka, and taken into detention together with her younger son, Arafat Rahman. An anticorruption commission has accused her of meddling in the selection of a private operator at a state-owned container depot in 2003.

The Financial Times reported Tuesday that more than 170 senior politicians have been jailed since January, when the caretaker administration declared emergency rule. Among those detained so far is Sheikh Hasina, another former prime minister. Mrs. Zia and Mrs. Hasina lead rival political parties that were preparing to contest parliamentary elections in January 2007 until the Army intervened.

The two former prime ministers have dominated Bangladesh's politics since the restoration of democracy in 1990. They head the country's two biggest parties and their supporters have frequently engaged in violent street clashes….
The two women have been blamed for promoting a culture of political corruption. The authorities, backed by the powerful armed forces, have vowed to clean up the country's politics before holding new elections by the end of 2008.

Agence-France Presse reports that authorities are pressing ahead with trials of other detained politicians and insisting that the antigraft commission is politically neutral. A lawyer for Zia called the case against her "fabricated, motivated, conspiratorial and fictitious."

At least a dozen former ministers, their spouses and lawmakers have been tried in fast-track courts set up at the parliament building. They have been sentenced to between five and 32 years in jail for corruption.

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