Sheikh Hasina asks BNP to join `poll govt`, offers any cabinet post

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Sunday renewed her appeal to BNP to join the "all-party" government to oversee the general election, saying she is willing to offer any ministry opposition leader Khaleda Zia wants for her party in the cabinet.

Dhaka: Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Sunday renewed her appeal to BNP to join the "all-party" government to oversee the general election, saying she is willing to offer any ministry opposition leader Khaleda Zia wants for her party in the cabinet.

"Send names of your party lawmakers, they will be given portfolios whichever you want...Let us join hands to stage a peaceful and credible election," Hasina said in a meeting with Awami League`s nomination seekers.

She urged Zia to join the polls process as there were doubts if the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) would join the polls under a government led by Hasina.

Hasina reiterated her call to BNP to join the government, three days after she dropped 30 ministers and redistributed portfolios in the newly-constituted "multi or all-party" cabinet in the run up to the election to be held before January 25 next year under a constitutional deadline.

"Only BNP did not join the all-party cabinet. Therefore, I request the opposition leader to send lawmakers to join the cabinet," Hasina said.

A BNP-led 18-party opposition coalition with fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami being its major partner has been spearheading a street campaign demanding formation of a "non-party" neutral government for overseeing the polls.

The coalition has called the "all-party cabinet" a farce, saying elections under Hasina would not be "credible".

Meanwhile, Awami League general secretary and local government minister Syed Ashraful Islam held a 45-minute meeting with BNP`s secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Isam Alamgir at the residence of an opposition lawmaker, private TV channels and newspapers reported at around midnight.

However, Alamgir denied the reports even as a number of sources on both sides of the political divide confirmed their meeting over the polls-time government system as they spoke to the media separately.

"I am sorry. I cannot make you (journalists) happy. There was no meeting between us," Alamgir told reporters laughing off the report as they approached him for comments.

However, a senior BNP leader later confirmed the reported meeting but said it ended without any major headway.

"I have also come to know that the meeting was held but there was no notable progress," ASM Hannan Shah, BNP`s highest policy-making standing committee member, was quoted as saying.

Even as Awami League remained tight-lipped about the talks and Alamgir said the "rumour" was spread to "create confusion", Information Minister and president of ruling grand alliance`s partner Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal Hasanul Haque Inu said "the meeting took place indeed".

"The reports are not wrong, the meeting took place and more such meetings will take place in future. These are aimed at restoring the atmosphere for a health dialogue," Inu told reporters.

`Prothom Alo`, `Samokal` and most other newspapers today reported that after the talks with Islam, Alamgir went straight to BNP chief and ex-premier Khaleda Zia`s office, informed her about the talks and then appeared before the media to deny the report at midnight.

Despite the denial, mainstream media confirmed the meeting, with Dhaka Tribune reporting that Islam and Alamgir sat together last night.

BNP`s parliamentary chief whip Joynal Abdin Farroque confirmed the report tacitly, saying the "the government is buying time in the name of discussion only to stage a `one-party` election setting as rivals its `pet opponents`."

The meeting came two days after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina suggested Alamgir to sit with his counterpart in the ruling party as she exchanged greetings with the BNP secretary general at an Armed Forces Day reception, which was not attended by Zia apparently to avoid the premier after their bitter 37-minute conversation over phone last month.

Earlier on November 19, Zia along with a 20-member delegation of the BNP-led 18-party alliance called on President Abdul Hamid and sought his intervention to end the existing deadlock over electoral system that sparked deadly clashes, claiming at least 31 lives across Bangladesh.

The two parties could not start a much talked about proposed dialogue despite their "readiness" for the talks to overcome the impasse.

Zia on October 26 rejected an invitation by her arch-rival Hasina for talks over a dinner as the premier called her up, with their bitter conversation that was largely dominated by unpleasant past issues, ending without a solution.

The opposition staged a series of strikes until two weeks ago, forcing people to stay indoors, disrupting businesses and suspending major examinations.
The violent protests saw hospitals fill up with scores of wounded patients, mostly with burn injuries, as protesters exploded crude bombs, torched vehicles and clashed with rival activists.