Press Trust of India
Dhaka, 26 October
Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chief Khaleda Zia today turned down Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s invitation for talks tomorrow to defuse a crisis over the upcoming general election but said she was open to dialogue after an Opposition-sponsored 60-hour nationwide shutdown.
Ms Hasina and Ms Zia spoke over the phone this evening ~ believed to be their first conversation in at least a decade ~ to explore possibilities of a dialogue after failed attempts by the Prime Minister to talk to the BNP chief earlier in the day. The Premier invited Ms Zia to hold talks over dinner at her official residence tomorrow to end the current impasse but the Opposition leader turned down the offer while agreeing to hold talks after the shutdown ends on 29 October.
Explaining the BNP’s position, Ms Zia’s Press secretary Maruf Kamal Sohel told reporters that the Opposition leader “accepted” the Premier’s invitation but deferred the proposed talks by saying “the dialogue can be held after the hartal (strike)”.
During her 37-minute phone call to Ms Zia, Ms Hasina said: “Please withdraw the 60-hour strike as I am sincere about a dialogue to ensure an inclusive election.”
“Come to my residence with as many of your leaders as you want. Let us talk frankly,” Ms Hasina was quoted as saying by B D News portal. “We will hold talks but cannot withdraw the hartal,” Ms Zia was quoted as telling the Premier.
Officials familiar with the conversation said that Ms Zia told Ms Hasina it would be difficult for her to travel during the strike called by her party from tomorrow morning to mount pressure on the government to hold polls under a neutral caretaker set-up.
Earlier today, Ms Hasina telephoned Ms Zia but failed to speak to her as her phone was reportedly not functional. They finally spoke at around 6.30 p.m.
Ms Hasina made the effort to contact her arch-rival a day after BNP supporters staged violent protests across the nation to push the party’s demand for setting up an interim government comprising non-political individuals. Six persons were killed and over 300 hurt in clashes between BNP workers and security forces.