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Diplomats seek end to Bangladesh unrest as Zia misses court


DIPLOMATS called for an end to the violent unrest in Bangladesh as tensions rose further Wednesday when opposition leader Khaleda Zia again failed to appear at a corruption trial despite facing the threat of arrest.

Mission heads from nine countries, including the United States and several European countries, met Zia at her office late Tuesday where the Bangladesh Nationalist Party leader has been holed up since early January.

“Recalling previous statements on recent events in Bangladesh, and those by the United Nations, we called for an end to Bangladesh’s continuing violence,” Australian High Commissioner Greg Wilcock said, reading out a statement on behalf of the diplomats.

He said the envoys, who also met Foreign Minister A.H. Mahmood Ali on Sunday, wanted to see “confidence-building measures, including de-escalation of Bangladesh’s political conflict”.     

The unrest began at the beginning of the year when two-time former leader Zia called her supporters to try to enforce a nationwide transport blockade in an effort

to topple current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and pave the way for new polls.

Violence unleashed by the protests has so far left at least 108 people dead, many of them victims of firebomb attacks on buses and trucks carried out by opposition hardliners in a bid to enforce the blockade.

The United Nations and the European Union, Dhaka’s top export destination, have called for a dialogue to resolve the crisis. But Hasina has ruled out talks with Zia, saying polls will not be held before 2019. 

The statement from the diplomats came ahead of Wednesday’s resumption of hearings in a corruption trial against Zia in the capital.

Zia failed to appear, even though a court last week issued an arrest warrant against her for not attending earlier hearings. Authorities have so far made no attempt to execute the warrant.

Lawyers and aides of the BNP leader say Zia cannot attend as she is being confined to her office by security forces who are posted outside, and also say she has no confidence in the court. 

“How do you expect that she would appear at the hearing? Her convoy was attacked when she last came here,” her lawyer Sanaullah Miah said outside the court.  

Khandker Mahbub Hossain, Zia’s chief counsel, said the 69-year-old would come to the court only if she receives guarantees that the government will not shut down her office as soon as she leaves.

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