DHAKA Four key advisers to Bangladesh's army-backed interim government -- equivalent to cabinet ministers -- resigned on Tuesday, but new advisers were likely to be sworn in later in the day, a government spokesman said.
The reason for their sudden departure was not clear. Syed Fahim Minaim, press secretary of government head Fakhruddin Ahmed, told reporters the four advisers had cited personal reasons, but one of the four said they had been asked to resign.
The Awami League said the government should now hold early elections and return power to elected representatives, and the rival Bangladesh Nationalist Party said the resignations showed that power should be handed back to politicians.
The four who quit included Mainul Husein, who held the Law and Information portfolio, and Tapan Chowdhury, responsible for Food, a sensitive post at a time of soaring market prices.
"We were summoned to the office of the chief adviser and were asked to resign," Mainul told reporters. "We followed his advice."
Fakhruddin, a former central bank governor, heads the interim government and leads the Council of Advisers (cabinet).
Education and Cultural Affairs adviser Ayub Quadri resigned last month after two ancient statues of the Hindu god Vishnu were stolen from Dhaka airport while being sent to a Paris museum for an exhibition. His post has yet to be filled.
Awami League acting chief Zillur Rahman demanded early polls. "Mere resignations and filling vacancies will not help overcome a brewing crisis facing the interim government."
Election Commissioner Sakhawat Hossain assured people the authorities would stick to plans to hold elections around the end of the year, maybe earlier if preparations were complete.
Five members of Fakhruddin's 11-member cabinet have now left since he took over a year ago, ending months of street violence between political parties by declaring a state of emergency and banning political activity.
OUTRAGEOUS AND INCONSISTENT
His government launched a massive crackdown on corruption, detaining two former prime ministers, Sheikh Hasina and Begum Khaleda Zia, and more than 170 other senior politicians.
It was not clear whether the four advisers were leaving because of policy or personal differences with colleagues, but the resignations signalled an "embedded weakness" in the government that might have halted progress in solving many issues, political analysts said.
Media have often accused Mainul of making outrageous and inconsistent comments on sensitive political topics.
Tapan came in for bitter media and public criticism recently for saying the government "had nothing to do with spiralling food prices", which have doubled in the past 12 months.
The food sector, which became the top priority after last November's devastating cyclone, was one key area in which the government's reform drive failed.
Mainul told a private television channel late on Monday that the government was committed to keeping its pledges, including fighting corruption and delivering a flawless democracy through a credible election.
He said that some vested interests were trying to push the government into trouble, but did not elaborate.
Media and analysts have recently attacked a number of government advisers. "There have been failures, apathy and corruption among the advisers that went contrary to the government's policy against wrongdoing," one analyst said.
(Additional reporting by Nizam Ahmed, Serajul Islam Quadir and Ruma Paul)