11/23/2006, 00.00
BANGLADESH
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Election commissioner steps aside

Following weeks of violent opposition protests, Aziz takes a three-month leave of absence. President is hopeful political crisis can be solved, but many observers still view the situation as very unstable.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) – Bangladesh's election commissioner, M.A. Aziz, has bowed to pressure to step aside. His decision follows days of unrest by opposition supporters who literally paralysed the country.

President Iajuddin Ahmed, who also heads the caretaker government that runs the country till the January 2007 elections, said that Mr Aziz agreed to go on leave for three months so that the government can hold general elections in January without him overseeing them.
The Opposition Awami League and its 13 allies had organised nation-wide demonstrations accusing Mr Aziz of seeking to rig the vote in favour of the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)—which had appointed him on May 23—, and threatened to boycott the polls unless the election chief was removed.

Mr Aziz has always denied the charges and until yesterday refused to step aside.

Now the president has to pick Aziz's replacement. For now he has appointed two new election commissioners and said he expects the month-long political crisis to end following the changes.
Thousands of Awami League supporters were still in the streets of Dhaka today demanding his resignation. When it became clear he was stepping aside, the crowds began celebrating by singing songs and beating drums.

However, the situation is not entirely in the clear. Some analysts warn that whilst the immediate crisis may be over, further uncertainty still lies ahead. Indeed, the Awami League still has many more election reform demands, whilst the BNP is urging the interim government led by President Ahmed to stand firm.

The violence protests of the last few days left Dhaka isolated for three days. Consequently, the prices of essential food have risen because of difficult transportation.

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