Bangla govt asks Zia to vacate cantonment house immediately

Bangla govt asks Zia to vacate cantonment house immediately

On the eve of a High Court deadline allowing the BNP leader to stay for 30 more days at the official residence inside the Dhaka cantonment expiring, Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told newsmen here: "She will commit contempt of court unless she voluntarily leaves the cantonment house by Friday".

Alam cautioned that any government action to "evict her from the house will not be a violation of law" but said the government expects her to vacate ahead of any such step.

The High Court had last month asked Zia to vacate the house in a month's time, validating a government notice served on the opposition leader.

Zia's lawyers had said that the government should recall its notice on "humanitarian consideration" but law minister Shafique Ahmed responded by saying that any such consideration in her case would be an "unjust enrichment".

BNP has in the past several days staged street protests over the issue and Zia last week filed an appeal before the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.

The apex court yesterday adjourned till November 29 the hearing on her petition against the High Court verdict. The SC, however, did not stay the operation of the High Court, apparently prompting the attorney general to issue a warning.

A lawyer of the opposition leader, however, said Zia was unlikely to be faced with any contempt charge since her case was pending before the highest court of the country.

The government of Zia's arch-rival Sheikh Hasina last year asked her to vacate the posh residence on an area of 2.72 acres of land at the Dhaka Cantonment, which she was allotted 29 years ago under a controversial lease agreement.

The cabinet on April 8, 2009 cancelled the lease on grounds that the leasing process had been faulty and she violated lease terms. Subsequent notices also said she was carrying out political activities from the house located in a "protected area".

The authorities in May last year issued a third notice to Zia, asking her to leave the house by June 30 surrendering its possession to the military estate officer. Zia filed the writ petition on May 3, 2009, challenging the notice.

Hasina had earlier urged her arch-rival to return to the state her house saying "taking possession of a house illegally by a former primer, who is now the leader of the opposition, is not fair".

Speaking at a party rally, Hasina yesterday alleged that the opposition was trying to create an issue over the notice to Zia to destabilise the country, as pro-BNP lawyers reportedly created a chaotic situation in Supreme Court complex.

"It is a duty of the government to return the army land to military, if they could regain the 168 kathas of land, they could solve to some extent the accommodation problems of several hundred members of the armed forces," Hasina said.

The then military ruler president Hussain Muhammad Ershad, now a crucial ally of Hasina's Awami League-led alliance, had allocated to Zia another posh house at uptown Gulshan area in 1981 and she was again offered a bigger house at the cantonment in 1982.

"Under the rules two houses cannot be allocated to one person," a government statement earlier said.

Zia was allocated the houses after the assassination of her husband Ziaur Rahman, a military ruler turned civilian president, in an abortive 1981 coup.

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