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Thursday, June 12, 2008
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Freed Hasina asks for quick election

Talks to CA over phone; holds dialogue with advisers; flies to US this morning

Amid a rapturous welcome from thousands of party activists, supporters and leaders, former premier, also Awami League (AL) President, Sheikh Hasina was released yesterday from detention on parole for two months with permission to go abroad 'for better treatment'.

Late last night, during a closed door meeting with four advisers to the military backed caretaker government at her Sudha Sadan residence, Hasina called Chief Adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed and urged him to prepare for the stalled elections as quickly as possible.

AL, one of the oldest and largest political parties in the country, had been demanding its chief's release as the precondition for its participation in the dialogues between the government and political parties.

Hasina is scheduled to fly to London today at 8:15am on board a flight of British Airways en route to Boston where she will stay for a few days, and then catch a flight of a US airliner to Canada. She will later return to the US again for treatment.

Commerce Adviser Zillur Rahman, however, told BBC Bangla Service last night, "The government which has the power to order her release, also retains the power to withdraw that order."

The AL chief walked out of the sub-jail set up on the parliament building premises in the capital after 11 months of detention around 1:45pm, following an executive order of the government.

Hundreds of party colleagues and supporters escorted her motorcade, jogging all the way from the sub-jail to Bangabandhu Memorial Museum on road no 32 in Dhanmondi.

Hasina went on to preside over meetings of the AL central working committee and the party presidium, and later to hold the meeting with the four government advisers.

AL Acting General Secretary Syed Ashraful Islam said during her telephone conversation with the chief adviser, Hasina demanded release of all detained AL leaders and workers, withdrawal of all 'false cases' against them, and lifting of the state of emergency.

Fakhruddin and Hasina agreed on the importance of holding fair, participatory, acceptable and meaningful polls on schedule.

"There was no shortage of sincerity from both sides," Ashraful said, later adding that they hope to solve 'all problems' through dialogues now the AL chief has been released.

The government advisers apprised Hasina of the state of the electoral preparations, including the voter list.

Ashraful said Hasina directed her party leaders, led by presidium member Zillur Rahman, to take part in the dialogues with the government, and said the final meeting with the government will be held after her return.

Government Adviser Hossain Zillur told reporters after yesterday's meeting, "She (Hasina) is voluntarily going overseas, we hope she will return in good health," adding, "We hope she will become part of the process and play a competent and effective role upon her return."

"This is the beginning of a dialogue and we will hold several meetings in the coming weeks and months. We are looking for an effective solution through these open discussions," Zillur added.

He also hoped to sit with BNP soon.

Zillur said AL brings a wealth of governance experience, and they want to learn from it through the dialogue.

At 8:00pm Hasina presided over an AL central working committee meeting in her Sudha Sadan residence, where she directed the party to mobilise its forces for the elections.

Hasina made her first stop after being released at the Bangabandhu Memorial Museum, where she placed a wreath at the portrait of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of the nation.

Visibly emotional Hasina spent about 20 minutes in front of her father's portrait and finally broke into tears, surrounded by hundreds of party leaders and workers who were showering her with flower petals while chanting slogans of greetings.

She offered the zohr prayer and a special prayer there for salvation of the departed souls of her father, mother, brother, and other family members and relatives who had been brutally killed in that house in an army led coup on August 15, 1975.

Hasina, the eldest daughter of Bangabandhu, then started towards Sudha Sadan. Several thousand of her party leaders, workers and supporters queued up, many holding bouquets, on both sides of the roads stretching from road no 5 in Dhanmondi to Sudha Sadan.

As the AL chief's motorcade entered Dhanmondi, cheerful supporters began chanting slogans including one that translates, 'No fear Sheikh Hasina, we are still on the street. We broke the lock and brought you home'.

Hasina's son Sajeeb Wazed Joy expressed deep gratitude to Allah, AL leaders, workers, and supporters, and to the people of the country.

"I'm now very relaxed…very happy. All of our family members are feeling happy after 11 months. I express my deep gratitude to the almighty Allah, Awami League family, and to the government for releasing my mother," he told The Daily Star over the phone from the US in an immediate reaction.

The crowd through road no 5 in Dhanmondi was so thick that Hasina's motorcade could barely move, taking more than half an hour to reach Sudha Sadan, which is less than a quarter kilometre from there.

At the main entrance to her residence Hasina remained stuck for several minutes as security personnel struggled to manage the crowd.

Around 2:30pm Hasina entered her residence, from where she had been arrested by the army-led joint forces on July 16 last year.

Entering her home, the AL president went straight to the first floor patio from where she waved to the crowd on the street. She then moved to a balcony on the second floor and waved again to her supporters who were jamming the street as far as eyes could see, repeatedly breaking into tears.

In response, the crowd waved back chanting slogans. A large number of party leaders and workers entered Sudha Sadan to have a glimpse of their party chief.

After the public appearance, Hasina went inside and first hugged AL Presidium Member Syeda Sajeda Chowdhury breaking into tears again. Then she embraced another Presidium Member Motia Chowdhury again breaking down into tears.

"How are you?" she asked her colleagues, and when they inquired about her well being, she said she was fine. The AL chief then thanked her party leaders.

After the exchange of greetings, Hasina started talking about more serious issues with senior AL leaders including Zillur Rahman and Syed Ashraful Islam, who had been waiting there for a couple of hours for her arrival. During their conversations the AL chief was repeatedly bursting into tears.

Later talking to reporters, Zillur thanked Allah and the people of the country for 'standing beside his party chief' and sought public blessings for Hasina's long life.

Hundreds of party activists began thronging Sudha Sadan and the special jail gate from early morning as the news spread that their leader would be released soon. A good number of grassroots level leaders from adjacent districts rushed to Sudha Sadan immediately after Hasina arrived there.

Many professionals including teachers of Dhaka University also rushed to Sudha Sadan to greet Hasina.

Meanwhile, police yesterday returned some of Hasina's seized belongings including two Mercedes Benz automobiles, two mobile phone sets, and a computer following a Dhaka court order.

JOY'S REACTION
Saying that his mother was kept detained for 11 months on 'false charges', Joy told The Daily Star last night that his family is happy that she will now get better treatment.

Joy, who is a software engineer also a businessman residing in the US, also said Hasina has been released in the face of a popular demand, and likened his mother's release to the historic release of his late grandfather Bangabandhu after he had been framed in Agartola conspiracy case many year's ago when the country was part of Pakistan.

"My gratitude to the government is for releasing my mother in the interest of the country. They have heeded the popular demand, I hope the government will continue moving forward, being reasonable for the greater interest of the country and its people," Joy added.

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