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Zia's comments on army draws criticism in Bangladesh

Dhaka, Mar 26, 2013 (PTI): 18:32 IST
Khaleda Zia
Bangladesh's main opposition leader Khaleda Zia has sought army intervention to end the political chaos in the country in the wake of 1971 war crimes trial, drawing sharp criticism from the ruling party and the media which termed the remark as "vicious" and undemocratic.

The ruling Awami League today called her comments as "vicious" and said, "This is an unprecedented and undemocratic act."

The Awami League general secretary and local government minister Syed Ashraful Islam's reaction came two days after Zia told a party rally that the army could not play "a silent spectator" and "they will play their due role in proper time if peace remained absent in the country".

Islam said Zia was playing a "vicious role" to protect the 1971 war criminals who were being tried in special tribunals for "crimes against humanity" for siding with Pakistani troops.

A massive criticism over her remarks prompted BNP's acting secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir to clarify her comments, saying she was wrongly quoted in media reports.

"BNP does not believe in military interference in politics. She (Zia) had said that the country's armed forces work for peacekeeping (abroad under UN missions), and they will do the same, at appropriate time, for the betterment of the nation.

"The (Zia's) message was twisted by some mass media outlets," Alamgir told media yesterday.

But, his counterpart in the ruling party rejected the clarification saying, major television channels broadcast and newspapers carried identical reports on Zia's speech.
Awami League's joint secretary general Mahbubul Alam Hanif said that the opposition leader wanted army as "she lost trust in democracy and people".

The mass circulation Daily Star carried an editorial titled 'Khaleda Zia's Army baiting; We register our strong protest' saying, "We are horrified, surprised and somewhat dumfounded by Begum Zia's tacit invitation to the Army should, in her perception, the need arise".

"Coming from her, a two times prime minister, who should know better about the role of the military in a democratic set up, we find her remarks not only injudicious but also unexpected and unwarranted. We condemn her for the army baiting," the star editorial read.

Senior BNP leader and former army chief retired general Mahbubur Rahman visibly tried to dilute the issue saying "this (Zia's comment) was a political remark at a public rally".
"Bangladesh Army is thoroughly professional. They know their periphery of responsibilities and their limits," he said.

Former president AQM Badruddoza Chowdhury, whose Liberal Democratic Party is currently an ally of BNP, came defence of Zia, saying "she is an astute and percipient politician and the wife of an army general and as such, she can be trusted to make informed observations".

"Moreover, it is true that our army's efficiency in the international community (UN missions) might come under question if they fail to protect their own country," he said.
BNP was waging a campaign over electoral system demanding restoration of a caretaker government system for election oversight. The general elections are due next year but ongoing trials of several stalwarts of its crucial extreme rightwing ally Jamaat for 1971 war crimes visibly shifted their issue.

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