Dec 17, 2008

World - Bangladesh lifts emergency rule

Bangladesh's army-backed interim government has lifted a two-year state of emergency ahead of the general election on 29 December.

President Iajuddin Ahmed signed the order earlier in the week.

The lifting of emergency restrictions had been a key demand of the two main political parties.

Full campaigning began last Thursday with Khaleda Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) taking on the Awami League, led by Sheikh Hasina.

Both women are former prime ministers. They have both faced corruption allegations and were released on bail in deals with the government to ensure their parties took part in the elections.

Chief's pledge

The emergency was imposed in January 2007 to tackle street violence over election reforms that left dozens dead.

Inspector general of police Nur Mohammad told Agence France-Presse news agency: "There is no emergency after one minute past midnight (Tuesday)."

Earlier on Tuesday, the day Bangladesh marked its independence in 1971, army chief Gen Moeen U Ahmed said in a televised address: "The Bangladesh army, playing a great peacekeeping role under the UN command, is not eager to assume a political role.

"Rather we would like to see Bangladesh achieve a democratic government through a fair and credible election. We would help the [civilian] government by all means."

The Election Commission said this week that security would be tightened from Thursday for the elections amid fears Islamic militants might try to disrupt them.

Election commissioner Shakawat Hossain said 300,000 security personnel would be deployed at 35,000 polling stations for voting.

National police chief Nur Mohammad said: "I am confident the situation will stay stable and campaigns and voting will take place in a peaceful atmosphere."

The government last month announced a short delay in the elections following BNP complaints.

But restrictions on political rallies were lifted last Friday and both of the main parties have held large rallies

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