Bangladesh`s former PM Zia evicted from home amid protests
Last Updated: Sunday, November 14, 2010, 00:30
Dhaka: Former Bangladesh premier Khaleda Zia was on Saturday forced to vacate her posh cantonment residence of 30 years, after security forces laid a siege around the house to execute a High Court order, while angry BNP supporters clashed with police in Dhaka opposing the action.

"She has left her 6 Mainul Road residence at the cantonment paying her respect to the High Court order," an Army spokesman told newsmen adding that the Cantonment Board authorities extended her the due honour as she vacated the posh house.

Inter Service press Relations director Shahinul Islam said Zia, 66, had some of her personal belongings with her while the "authorities" would make an inventory of the remaining items.

Media reports said BNP supporters clashed with police in the capital. The police have charged with batons to disperse hundreds of opposition activists, who have been protesting the bid to evict her from her military-owned home she has lived in for nearly 30 years.

Large number of security officials cordoned off Zia's house inside the army headquarters in Dhaka today, prompting the BNP protest.

Zia has been living in the house since 1981 when her husband, former President Ziaur Rahman, was assassinated in a military coup. The home was allotted to Zia on humanitarian grounds.

Asked where the opposition leader went, Islam said "she is a respected person a former prime minister and currently the opposition leader she can go anywhere."

But a police officer who witnessed the departure process said Zia's personal car carrying the national standard drove her to nearby Baridhara area outside the cantonment area.

Zia's press secretary Maruf Kamal Khan, however, alleged that the law enforcement agency people boarded her on a jeep after "evicting" her from her Dhaka Cantonment house.

The development came an hour after the BNP called a nationwide dawn to dusk general strike after police and elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) troops laid a siege around her cantonment residence while army called it part of a process to regain possession of the posh house in line with a High Court judgement.

"The attacking and undemocratic attitude of the government to oust our leader from her residence forces us to call the countrywide general strike tomorrow," BNP secretary general Kohondker Delwar Hossain told a hurriedly called press conference.

Witnesses and television reports earlier said several hundred policemen and RAB forces were deployed in front Zia's residence while BNP leaders earlier alleged she was under virtual "house arrest". The opposition activists staged violent protests at different parts of the city throwing stones on vehicles and setting several on fire prompting baton wielding police to chase them while they used water cannons in front of the main entrance of the cantonment to disperse several hundred protesters.

The army in a statement earlier today said it is the responsibility of all to execute the HC judgement regarding Zia's Cantonment house and "we are bound to implement this judgement.

"The deadline for vacating the house expired yesterday and as concerned authorities the Cantonment Board's efforts are underway to enforce the High Court judgement that had allowed Zia to stay at the posh residence for 30 days," the Inter Service press Relations (ISPR) director, Shahinul Islam told newsmen in the morning.

The development came as several newspapers today carried a report quoting unidentified BNP and army sources that the opposition was preparing the quit the house as she already moved some household items from there in the past several days.

But the BNP secretary general and her lawyers rejected the reports as rubbish saying Zia had no plan to vacate the house and that was why "she preferred an appeal in the apex court against the High Court verdict."

Attorney general Mahbubey Alam two days ago warned Zia against her possible exposure to "contempt of court" and eviction from posh cantonment residence unless she vacated it by Friday.

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

The High Court last month asked her to vacate the house in one month validating an earlier government notice served on the opposition leader.

Losing initially the court battle at the High Court level, Zia's lawyers said the government should recall its notice on "humanitarian consideration" but law minister Shafique Ahmed at that time said any such consideration in her case would an "unjust enrichment".

BNP in the past several days staged street protests but Zia last week filed an appeal prayer before the apex Appellate Division of the Supreme Court which yesterday adjourned till November 29 the hearing on her petition against the High Court verdict.

Zia's arch rival Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's Awami League-led government 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 while the subsequent notices furthermore 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 upon Zia asking her to leave the house by June 30 surrendering its possession to the military estate officer of the Dhaka Cantonment. Zia filed the writ petition on May 3, 2009, challenging the notice.

Hasina 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."

"When I (Hasina) was the leader of the opposition, I was (even) barred from entering the cantonment with my vehicle to visit ailing writer Humayun Azad at Combined Military Hospital, then why will the present leader of the opposition live inside the cantonment," she questioned.

She said it was a duty of the government to return the 2.72 acres of land to army to solve to some extent the accommodation problems of several hundred members of the armed forces.

The then military ruler president Hussain Muhammad Ershad, now a crucial ally of Hasina's Awami League-led grand alliance government, had allocated her another posh house at uptown Gulshan area in 1981 while she was again offered a bigger house on area of 2.72 acres of land 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.


First Published: Sunday, November 14, 2010, 00:30

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