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Bangladesh's corruption probe sets back interim government

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Bangladesh's High Court has quashed a corruption case against former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed, which was brought about under emergency rules established by a military-backed interim government. Sheikh Hasina's lawyers successfully argued that the alleged offenses predated the emergency rules that came into force last year. The Supreme Court is due to hear an appeal Thursday from government prosecutors, who have warned that the ruling jeopardizes a broad anticorruption drive against political heavyweights.

The country suspended parliamentary rule in January 2007 amid preelection street violence and concerns over systematic corruption by successive elected governments. Sheikh Hasina and her archrival, Khaleda Zia, with whom she alternated power for 15 years through 2006, were detained last year along with scores of family members, senior politicians, and business associates. They were accused of massive graft, and the military promised to put them on trial and restore democratic rule by the end of 2008.

Continued instability in the world's third-most populous Muslim country could have wider implications throughout the region – and the world, analysts say. In December 2007, Bangladesh increased security for its two jailed former prime ministers after the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, reports Xinhua. Sheikh Hasina survived an attack at a 2004 rally. One Indian journalist who writes about security issues described the significance of the possible "Talibanization" of Bagladesh in the Asia Times: "The growing frequency of such attacks is triggering concern not only that Bangladesh is vulnerable to violence by Islamic fundamentalists but also that it is emerging as another Afghanistan, i.e., as a base from which terrorists can plan and carry out attacks elsewhere."

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