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Bangladesh’s Khaleda Zia forced to wait for trial decision

DHAKA: Bangladesh opposition leader Khaleda Zia was given a short reprieve on Sunday, with a court postponing a decision on whether to halt her embezzlement trial that could see her jailed for life if convicted.
The High Court in Dhaka was expected to rule on the two-time former premier’s last-minute bid to halt the trial scheduled for Monday, after she and her associates were indicted last month on corruption charges.
Zia’s lawyers have called the charges politically motivated, aimed at keeping her out of politics and destroying her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which has vowed to topple the government of arch rival Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
The lawyers argue Zia has been charged unlawfully and are seeking a court order to stop the trial, which was set to start on Monday in a special anti-corruption court in Dhaka.
The former two-time premier lodged a last-minute legal bid to try to stop the trial which had been scheduled to start on Monday, after she was indicted on charges of embezzling more than $650,000.
The High Court in Dhaka had been expected to rule Sunday on whether the trial should proceed in a separate court. But instead it said it would announce its decision on Wednesday.
Zia, who first became premier in 1991, has a famously poisonous relationship with Hasina, an enmity which dates back three decades.
The BNP and its allies boycotted general elections held in January which they denounced as a farce.
Nearly 200 people died in political violence in the run-up to the polls as the opposition and security forces fought pitched battles.
Zia was kept under de facto house arrest for more than a week ahead of the elections.
Hasina was overwhelmingly re-elected in what was effectively a one-horse race after the BNP and 18 other opposition parties refused to field candidates over rigging fears.
Police detained thousands of opposition officials and supporters and brought charges of violence against tens of thousands of BNP followers during and after the polls.
Zia spent nearly two years behind bars in 2007-08 when both she and Hasina were detained by a military-backed government as part of a crackdown on corruption.Both women were eventually freed without charge.