UPDATE 2-Bangladesh warns against political rallies

Wed Nov 12, 2008 5:27pm IST

(Adds details, BNP comment on polls)

DHAKA Nov 12 (Reuters) - A ban on political rallies in Bangladesh will continue until at least three weeks before next month's election, the army-backed interim government said.

The Home (Interior) Ministry re-issued the directive late on Tuesday after police battled Islamist activists trying to hold a rally in the capital, Dhaka.

Over a dozen people were injured when Jamaat-e-Islami activists protested against the arrest on corruption charges of four former ministers, including its two top leaders.

On Wednesday, Bangladesh's High Court granted two-months bail to three of the four, Moulana Motiur Rahman Nizami, Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid and Saifur Rahman, and also stayed hearing of their cases, court officials said.

The country's home ministry said the ban on rallies and protests would be strictly enforced until Nov. 27 to avert "adverse law and order" ahead of the polls.

The government has said the emergency rule, first imposed two years ago, will be relaxed ahead of the Dec. 18 election, but would not be abolished totally.

Jamaat and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of former prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia said the ban on rallies was unacceptable, and vowed to go ahead with more protests.

The Election Commission asked the government on Wednesday to deploy army troops from Dec. 12-31 to keep law and order, and to keep the election and transfer of power peaceful.

Troops were deployed across the country when the interim government took charge and imposed emergency rule in January 2007. They were called back to their barracks last week to create a "free and congenial" election atmosphere.

Political parties said that unhindered election campaigning was not possible with troops in place but Chief Election Commissioner A.T.M. Shamsul Huda said on Wednesday the army's presence was needed to ensure free and fair voting.

The BNP and Jamaat have yet to confirm their participation in the Dec. 18 polls. They want politicians who have been convicted or detained on corruption charges to be able to stand for elections, threatening to boycott them otherwise.

"How can we go to the polls if the authority does not accept our demand. We are facing a shortage of proper candidates with dozens of our key people behind the bars," BNP secretary-general Khandaker Delwar Hossain told reporters. (Reporting by Anis Ahmed; Editing by Valerie Lee)

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