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Repeating her demand for the parliamentary election first, detained BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia yesterday proposed that the caretaker administration set a timeline for the next government to hold local body polls.

“If they are concerned about local government polls under an elected government they can set a month's time for it to hold the elections,” she observed.

The former prime minister was speaking to reporters after hearing proceedings in the Niko graft case against her at a special court.

She said the national election is more urgent than local polls and so the government should hold it first in compliance with the constitution.

“There has already been much delay. The parliamentary polls were supposed to be held in January 2007, but now they are planned to be held in December 2008,” she continued.

Khaleda alleged the government is not even-handed in the way it treats the political parties. If it were neutral it would not have been treating BNP differently.

Earlier, Judge Khandaker Kamal Uz-zaman of Special Court-9 deferred the hearing on charge framing in the case till July 16.

The BNP chief was produced before the special court set up on the Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban premises at 10:08am.

She told the reporters that her party wants to cooperate with the government, but it must resolve to hold the long-stalled general election as soon as possible.

She said, “Handing over power to an elected government after a free and fair election should be the main objective of the caretaker administration.”

BNP is always in favour of election, but that will have to be free and fair and involving participation of all parties, she added.

Expressing apprehension over trial at special courts, she said, “The way trials are taking place suggests it's not possible to get justice here.”

Criticising the government for failing to keep the prices of essentials within people's reach, she said four crore people have become poor and the middle-income group too would slip below the poverty line soon.

“The BDR-run fair price shops and OMS programmes have been closed. People are starving, and committing suicide out of anger and frustration. Even the middle class families are crowding mazars (shrines) for food. Only Allah knows what's going to happen in Ramadan,” she went on.

“Only an elected government can bail the nation out of this difficult situation.”

Referring to the delay in arranging overseas treatment for her detained sons, she accused the government of double standards. “My sons are critically ill. Despite suggestions from the medical board, the government is not sending them abroad while it's sending others,” she alleged.

Replying to a query, she said, “We have no objection to increasing the salaries of government employees, but what about others?”

Asked whether any action would be taken against those participating in the August 4 local elections, she replied, “Time will say.”

About BNP leader Salauddin Quader Chowdhury's reported remarks that the current crisis could be solved if Khaleda and Awami League President Sheikh Hasina agree to meet and hold talks, she said, “I had talked to everyone in the past for the wellbeing of the country and democracy.”

She condemned misbehaviour with journalists covering special court proceedings on June 30.

After the court sat at 10:12am, the defence submitted a lawyers' certificate seeking adjournment of the proceedings.

They said since they have filed a writ petition challenging the validity of the case, proceedings should be adjourned till the High Court issues an order on the petition.

The prosecution lawyers opposed the arguments and said senior lawyers from the defence on the previous day had said they would not file any adjournment petition and let the hearing begin.

In reply, the defence said they were seeking adjournment on genuine grounds.

The state lawyers said at least the allegations mentioned in the first information report (FIR) should be read out. Then as one of them moved to open the case, the defence raised objection in chorus.

At that stage, former law minister and co-accused Moudud Ahmed prayed for adjournment till July 16 so they could return to this court after having the writ petition disposed of at the HC.

After hearing both the sides, the court fixed July 16 for the next date for hearing.

Eight other accused including former state minister AKM Mosharraf Hossain were produced before the court yesterday.

On December 9 last year, the Anti-Corruption Commission filed the case with Tejgaon Police Station against Khaleda and 10 others for abusing power in awarding a gas exploration and extraction deal to Canadian company Niko.

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