09/18/2006, 00.00
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Charges against ex-general Ershad collapsing fast

The ruling party wants to bring him into its coalition in view of political elections in 2007. As a condition for joining, Ershad has demanded that he be appointed President of the Republic and that numerous cases pending against him for years be dropped. The courts have ruled in his favour four times since August.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) – Corruption charges pending for years against the ex-dictator of Bangladesh, General HM Ershad, are being dropped one after the other. Yesterday, the First Additional Metropolitan Sessions Judge's Court cleared the chairman of the Jatiya Party (JP, Popular Party), at the end of a trial that has dragged on since 1991, which saw him accused of illicitly allotting plots of land to his officials. The verdict said the charges were made for political ends. This is Ershad's fourth acquittal in a month. Many analysts in the country link the court's swiftness in processing cases against the ex-dictator to political moves by the government of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), in view of the upcoming elections.

In April 1991, the ex-general was accused of violating anti-corruption laws by directing the authorities to allot plots in residential areas to his officials during 1988-1990. The trial started in 1998, but the court only finished hearing witnesses in August because both the prosecution and defence were playing for time. After yesterday's sentence, Additional Public Prosecutor Golam Mostafa Khan said he must decide whether he will appeal against it. Since the end of August, the courts already threw out another three charges of the same type against the former dictator. New hearings for other cases of corruption against Ershad have been slated for between 20 and 27 September.

In view of the upcoming election in 2007, the BNP decided to take the JP, now the second largest party in opposition, into its coalition. As a condition for joining the alliance, Ershad demanded that he be appointed President of the Republic and that the pending cases against him be dropped. Experts on Bangladesh contacted by AsiaNews recalled how in 1990, the BNP were among backers of a mass popular movement that forced the dictator to step down. They added: "The current prime minister, Khaleda Zia, had accused Ershad of being one of the assassins of her husband (ex-president Ziaur Rahman, killed in 1981), and now she is ready to make him head of state!"

Ershad was in jail for five years; he was released in exchange for his support to the Awami League (AL) government in 1996. But he could not contest the parliamentary election in 2001 as corruption charges against him were still pending.

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