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Sheikh Hasina - 2009-2014?

Sheikh HasinaSheikh Hasina Wajed was sworn in as prime minister on 06 January 2009, restoring democracy to the country after two years of rule by an interim administration backed by the army. Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina Wajed was sworn into office at the presidential palace in Dhaka. She came to power following a landslide victory in elections held by an army-backed administration.

Sheikh Hasina called for opposition leader and bitter rival, Begum Khaleda Zia, to cooperate in restoring democracy and promised to end decades of political confrontation. Democracy was suspended for two years after the parties they head paralyzed the country with street protests and deadly violence. There were signs that change is in the air for a country whose politics has long been hostage to the bitter rivalry between the two women known as the "battling Begums."

Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman along with the members of his family was martyred on the fateful night of 15 August 1975. Sheikh Hasina and her younger sister Sheikh Rehana were the only survivors as they were in West Germany at that time.

It is the second time that Sheikh Hasina will head the government - she was earlier prime minister between 1996 and 2001. Sheikh Hasina created awareness among the people and waged a struggle for Non-party Caretaker Government to ensure free and fair polls. Her movement reached the peak after a non-cooperation movement in March 1996 and the provision for Non-party Caretaker Government was incorporated in the Constitution.

On 16 July 2007 former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was arrested on extortion charges. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the detention came just months after the military-backed interim administration had tried unsuccessfully to exile the powerful woman, who heads the Awami League party. Hundreds of policemen and elite security forces surrounded former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's residence in Dhaka early in the morning, and then she was driven to a metropolitan court. Roads in the neighborhood were sealed as the arrest took place. The court ordered Ms. Hasina held for an indefinite period. Police said she was detained in connection with a charge of extorting about $440,000 from a businessman during her term in office from 1996 to 2001. Hasina denied all charges.

Hasina was released on parole in June 2008 and allowed to travel to the United States for medical treatment. The cases against her continued. On September 3, 2007, the government arrested BNP chairperson and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia on charges of corruption. After 11 months behind bars, on 11 June 2007 former Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was freed in a face-saving deal that allowed her to go abroad for medical treatment, while ensuring the participation of her political party in planned national elections. Te head of the caretaker government in Bangladesh, Fakhruddin Ahmed, signed an order releasing former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for eight weeks. The action broke a dangerous political stalemate that threatened to derail plans for Bangladesh's return to democracy. Hasina's rival, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, the head of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, remained in jail on graft charges. She refused a similar deal to go abroad for medical treatment, calling it a political trap.

Sheikh Hasina later returned from abroad, and Khaleda Zia was released from prison, both to lead their respective parties in the parliamentary election campaign in the fall of 2008.

Under Sheikh Hasina's leadership her party Bangladesh Awami league led grand alliance won a landslide victory in the 9th Parliament Election in December 29, 2008 with 262 seats out of 299 in the National Parliament. Sheikh Hasina took oath as Prime Minister of Bangladesh at a ceremony held at Banghabhaban on January 06, 2009.

Other accounts reported that the 14-party AL alliance won 230 of 299 seats in the elections, which international and local observers deemed free and fair. Hasina's cabinet included representatives from the other parties in her coalition. Hasina replaced Fakhruddin Ahmed, chief advisor to the caretaker government, as the head of government. BNP chairperson and former prime minister Khaleda Zia became leader of the opposition.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina appointed a cabinet of relative newcomers upon taking office in January 2009. The BNP-led opposition attended the opening of the Parliament session, but later mounted several boycotts in protest of perceived slights by the ruling party. Both sides struggle to break free from their shared history of confrontational politics, and key institutions necessary for strengthening democracy remain weak.

As the new government was settling into office, it was rocked by a mutiny by border guards on February 25-26, 2009 in which more than 50 army officers were murdered. The government gave the soldiers of the Bangladesh Rifles a couple of days to report back to duty or face repercussions. Many returned to their headquarters and posts throughout the country, saying they had no role in the violent mutiny. About 250 members of the border guards, known as the BDR, were immediately arrested. Bangladesh has a history of bitter political rivalries, coups and counter-coups since gaining its independence.

Prime Minister Hasina sought to increase Bangladesh’s presence on the world stage. As leader of one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change, Hasina has been a vocal advocate for mitigation and adaptation by both developed and developing countries, aligning with the Copenhagen Accord in January 2010.

In a sharp change from previous administrations, her government has actively confronted violent extremist groups to deny space to terrorist networks and activities within its borders. The simultaneous elections of the Awami League and the Congress Party in India set the stage for renewed bilateral talks between the countries, an atmosphere which has been improved by counterterrorism cooperation. In January 2010, Hasina traveled to New Delhi to meet with Indian Prime Minister Singh, where they signed three agreements on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, transfer of sentenced persons, and countering terrorism, organized crime, and illegal drug trafficking; and two memoranda of understanding on energy sharing and cultural exchange programs.

In June 2011 police in Bangladesh detained dozens of opposition demonstrators during a nationwide anti-government strike in the capital, Dhaka. Thousands of police and security personnel were deployed around the country as supporters of the main opposition Bangladesh National Party held a strike in protest of the government's attempt to change the constitution. The strike was called after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's ruling Awami League party announced plans to repeal a provision that requires it to hand over power at the end of its term to a caretaker government while elections take place. Authorities detained at least 60 opposition activists in the capital and elsewhere in the country as they attempted to hold street protests. Lawmakers from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's ruling Awami League party passed the amendment in a June 30 vote boycotted by the BNP.

Since taking power after a landslide victory in 2009, Sheikh Hasina angered Islamic groups, including the country's most prominent religious party, the hardline Jamaat-e-Islami. In 2011, her government faced protests after it made changes to make the country's constitution more secular, although Islam was retained as the state religion. She banned Islamic militant groups. Several senior leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islmai were put on trial for war crimes during the 1971 struggle that led to the country's independence from Pakistan.

On 18 January 2012 the army in Bangladesh said it had foiled a coup attempt. The army said that the plot to overthrow Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was led by around 16 serving and former military officers with "extreme religious views" who wanted to introduce Islamic law in the country. Political analysts say the alleged conspiracy was apparently mounted by mid ranking officers and may not represent a serious threat to the elected government. But questions were raised whether the plot had support from hardline Islamists. The Army said the coup had been planned abroad and that two retired military officers were arrested immediately, with a total of 16 current and former military officers involved.

Human Rights Watch said in April 2012 that a Bangladesh-based rights groups had documented the disappearance of at least 22 people this year and another has tracked the disappearance of more than 50 people since 2010. The rights group said there has been a sharp increase in people disappearing after last being seen in the custody of Bangladeshi security agencies. HRW said the government of Sheikh Hasina has made “repeated promises” to end abuses, but consistently dismisses or ignores evidence of abuses by the security forces.

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Page last modified: 18-05-2012 15:25:51 ZULU