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Emergency declared, Bangladeshis relieved
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January 12, 2007 11:20 IST

Bangladeshis, reeling under a series of crippling strikes and violence, heaved a sigh of relief on Friday after President Iajuddin Ahmed proclaimed a state of emergency and postponed general elections in the face of massive opposition protests and international pressure to ensure fair and transparent polls.

President Ahmed on Thursday night resigned as the caretaker government chief soon after proclaiming emergency.

Justice Fazlul Haque, the senior-most among his 10-member advisory council, took charge as the acting head of government, while nine others resigned.

A new head of the caretaker government and his council would be sworn in within two or three days to set a new date for the now postponed parliamentary elections, an official source said.

National Security Intelligence Director General Major General Rezakul Haider Chowdhury and Chief of the President's Guard Regiment Brigadier General Abu Mohammad Sohel have been removed from their respective posts and attached to the army headquarters on Thursday night, reliable sources said.

The sources also said that Brigadier A K Khan Latif has replaced Major General Haider as the acting DG of NSI, while the second-most senior officer in the PGR has replaced Brigadier General Sohel as the acting chief of PGR.

Most Bangladeshis were relieved after the controversial elections were postponed warding off almost certain violence.

Former prime minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed's mega-alliance was boycotted the elections, while Khaleda Zia's four-party alliance vowed to push through the balloting.

Immediately after the state of emergency was proclaimed, private TV channels were asked to put off their news and talk shows or analytical programmes, sources said.

Press Information Department officials called up different print and electronic media and directed them not to be critical of the government.

Private TV channels have been airing only state-run Bangladesh Television news.

The print media was also asked not to publish any news item criticising the government and its activities.

Furthermore, political news including rallies, processions and related pictures, features, editorials, cartoons have also been banned, the sources said.

This is the first time such censorship has been imposed on the press since the restoration of democracy in 1991.

The last emergency was imposed during the regime of military dictator Hussain Muhammad Ershad, who now heads the main faction of the Jatiya Party.

"As the country was plunging into the abyss of a deep political crisis, the international community moved in a concerted way to put pressure on Iajuddin Ahmed and the caretaker government to back out from the controversial plan to hold elections on January 22," The Daily Star newspaper reported.

 The EU, US, Britain and Canada among others spoke out against holding such a "one-sided" election.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said the political crisis in Bangladesh has "severely jeopardised the legitimacy" of the polls.

Envoys of the US, UK, Japan, EC, Canada and Australia held closed-door meetings with the Mega-Alliance leaders and then with 4-party alliance leaders, and discussed Ahmed's resignation and postponement of the polls, the newspaper said.

Sheikh Hasina's Awami League leaders described Ahmed's resignation from the post of chief adviser as a "delayed" but "necessary" step.

They said they would hold a meeting on Friday to take the situation into stock and then decide on their next move.

Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party is yet to make any comment on the situation.

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