Arrest warrant issued for ex-leader
A Bangladesh court has issued an arrest warrant for ex-prime minister and opposition leader Khaleda Zia in two graft cases after she failed to appear in court for the fourth time.
Judge Abu Ahmed Jamadder issued the decision in the nation's capital, Dhaka, after he refused a bail plea by the defence, which sought more time, saying Zia was sick and concerned over her security because of political unrest.
It was not clear immediately whether Zia will soon be arrested. The court order will go to a police station where the cases were registered.
State counsel Mosharraf Hossain Kajol said: "The next measures will be taken by authorities in line with law."
The charges involved an alleged illegal fund used to buy land for a charity named after Zia's late husband, former president Ziaur Rahman.
Zia's lawyers have rejected allegations that Zia illegally collected more than 1 million US dollars (£645,000) in donations for the charity, and say the charges are politically motivated, which authorities deny.
Early last year, Zia was indicted in the cases, but chaos broke out when she arrived at the court on January 24, when her supporters attacked police and clashed with ruling party activists.
Authorities said the violence was an attempt was to derail the trial process but Zia's supporters say ruling party activists started the attacks.
After that, Zia skipped four court hearings, including yesterday, citing security concerns and sickness.
"Today, we appealed to the court for more time for her appearance as she is sick. But the court rejected that and issued the arrest warrant," defence lawyer Sanaullah Mia told reporters after the decision.
Bangladesh law requires Zia to appear in this court to seek bail to avoid arrest.
Zia's elder son Tarique Rahman, the heir apparent to take over her Bangladesh Nationalist Party in a deeply rooted political dynasty, was also indicted in the cases. Rahman lives in London.
Yesterday, the court ordered Rahman to appear before the court on March 4, lawyers said.
Zia currently leads a 20-party opposition alliance, which has been enforcing a non-stop transportation blockade across the South Asian country since early January to demand the resignation of her arch-rival, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and that a new election be called.
About 100 people have died, mostly in firebomb attacks allegedly by Zia's supporters and hired goons, since the blockade began after a year of relative calm following a general election in January 2014, which was boycotted by Zia's party.
The boycott allowed Ms Hasina to come to power with an overwhelming majority, and she says there is no need for another election before 2019 when her five-year term ends.
Another stumbling block for any solution to the stalemate is the country's largest Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami, which is the main ally of Zia.
Ms Hasina's administration has convicted several top leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami for crimes committed during the country's independence war against Pakistan in 1971.
Jamaat-e-Islami openly campaigned against the creation of Bangladesh and is accused of forming militia groups to kidnap and kill people who supported independence.
Bangladesh says Pakistani soldiers, aided by local collaborators, killed three million people and raped 200,000 women in 1971.