08/31/2006, 00.00
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Islamic parties "booming" in Bangladesh

The country's intelligence services and Election Commission have noted a significant increase in the number of Islamic parties and organisations over the past 27 years. Some analysts warn that the country might be entering a phase leading to the election of an Islamic government.

Dhaka (AsiaNews) – The number of Islamic parties and organisations has mushroomed since a constitutional ban on religion-based groups was lifted in 1976, but no one knows for sure how many actually exist. Neither the government nor the Election commission have any accurate figures. Some analysts warn that sooner or later an Islamic government will be elected.

The authorities have banned some of these groups for their extremist militancy. Between 2003 and 2005, the government outlawed four such groups: Shahadat-e- Al Hiqma, Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh, Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh and Harkat-Ul Jihad.

Other extremist groups have instead been funded by regular Islamic parties and organisations.

Since 1979 when the first parliamentary elections were held after the ban's repeal, 30 parties advocating Islamic rule have run for office.

Local analysts have told AsiaNews that "fundamentalist groups are reorganising" with the help of the government.

The leaders of a banned party quietly held a meeting in Dhaka's main mosque. When the press got a hold of the facts and published it the government said it was unaware of it. But the fundamentalists in question instead said that they had received assurances that their meeting would not be interrupted and they would not be bothered if they remained discreet.

Election Commission figures do not include active parties and organisations that have not run for elections, but the rise from 11 in the 1964-1971 period to the current hundred or so point to a trend that, according to experts, sees fundamentalists increasingly put pressure on the central government.  Eventually, they believe this might lead "in a few years time to an Islamic government in Bangladesh".

"It might not last long", they warn, "but it will constitute a phase through which we must go".

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