DHAKA: Bangladesh’s army-backed interim government, which has been cracking down on corruption to prepare for delayed elections, lifted a ban on 25 April on former prime minister Sheikh Hasina from returning home.
The withdrawal of the ban was announced in an official statement after the administration had earlier stopped Hasina from flying home from a holiday in the United States. It had said her return could trigger violence in the country.
“The temporary alert issued by the government has been lifted,” the government statement said, referring to the ban on Hasina who was not allowed to board a British Airways flight from London on Sunday.
The government also said there were no plans to send into exile Hasina’s rival, Begum Khaleda Zia, another former prime minister. It denied media reports that Khaleda was under virtual confinement at her home in Dhaka.
“It is clear there is no pressure on Khaleda Zia to go abroad, neither any restriction on her movement,” it said.
Khaleda’s close associates said earlier that she had pulled out of a reported deal with the interim administration to go into political exile with most of her family.
The interim government imposed a state of emergency on Jan. 11 as part of a crackdown on corruption. Security forces have since arrested more than 160 political figures.
An election planned for Jan. 22 was postponed after weeks of political violence and no new date has been announced.
Wednesday’s statement from the home ministry was issued after the council of advisers of the interim government headed by Fakhruddin Ahmed held a special meeting.
Shortly after the lifting of the ban, Hasina told a Bangladeshi television channel from London that she was happy at the decision.
“I am happy. I will go back to my country, to my people as quickly as I can,” she told private TV channel ATN-Bangla.
Hasina, chief of Awami League and daughter of independence leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, thanked ”media, friends and others who have opposed the ban and supported my cause”.
A court withdrew an arrest warrant against Hasina last week, within 24 hours of ordering the warrant for alleged murder linked to street battles in October between political opponents in which several people were killed.
Hasina’s party general secretary Abdul Jalil said earlier: “Hasina will return home to a hero’s reception, despite an existing state of emergency banning political activity and public gatherings.”
Leaders of Khaleda’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) welcomed the “lifting of pressure and restriction on the movement of Khaleda Zia.”
“It’s a victory of the people,” said Hannan Shah, a senior leader of BNP.
Bitter rivals Hasina and Khaleda have been targeted by the interim authority as part of a campaign to clean up politics and prepare for a free and fair election, for which no new date has been set.
Those netted in the anti-corruption drive include Khaleda’s eldest son and political heir-apparent, Tareque Rahman. He has been detained on extortion charges.