Protests in Bangladesh as Khaleda Zia's health deteriorates

Wednesday 01st December 2021 06:01 EST

Dhaka: Supporters of Bangladesh’s main opposition party have organised protests across the country demanding that their jailed leader be immediately allowed to go abroad for treatment. Khaleda Zia, the 76-year-old leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the main rival of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, has been serving a 10-year jail term for corruption.

She has been barred by the court from travelling abroad after she was convicted on corruption charges three years ago – a conviction the BNP says was politically motivated. The opposition leader was admitted to the critical care unit of a private hospital in the capital Dhaka early this month after her health condition “significantly worsened”.

Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, BNP secretary-general, said that Bangladesh’s healthcare system has “no further treatment” for Khaleda and she needs “treatment abroad immediately.” Khaleda, a three-time prime minister of the South Asian nation, is suffering from liver disease, chronic kidney disease and a heart ailment in addition to her existing conditions of rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes, according to her personal physician Dr AZM Zahid Hossain.

Thousands of opposition activists have staged multiple demonstrations, rallies and hunger strikes to press home their demands, with Secretary-General Alamgir warning of waging a campaign seeking the fall of the Hasina led-government if Zia is not allowed to travel. The government has directed the police to remain on “red alert” across the country so that no individuals can create “chaos and unwanted situation”.

Prime Minister Hasina seemed unmoved by the demands, saying that the law of the land would decide whether Zia would be allowed to go abroad. “I have done whatever I can for Khaleda Zia,” Hasina said, adding that using her power, she has allowed Zia to serve her sentence at home instead of jail and receive the required treatment within the country.

Law Minister Anisul Huq said the government does not lack compassion for Zia. “We understand the sentiment of her [BNP] party people and we are genuinely thinking of taking a decision about her treatment abroad. But we have to find out whether legal recourse allows such action,” he said.

But BNP leaders and activists strongly believe Zia is a victim of Prime Minister Hasina’s “personal vengeance”. They have been referred to as the “Battling Begums” due to their vicious political rivalry, as they alternated power with metronomic regularity since 1991 when the Zia-led BNP came to power following the first elections after nearly a decade of military rule.

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