Awami League sets conditions for talks

DHAKA MARCH 29 . In a dramatic political development, the Khaleda Zia Government has offered to hold talks with the Awami League to resolve "some disputed political issues" including the one over removal of portraits of the country's founding father, Mujibur Rahman.

The Awami League, which has decided "in principle" to resign en masse from Parliament and planned a series of anti-Government programmes from the first week of April, has not rejected the offer, but asked the Government to meet its three conditions first.

The conditions, as the League's general secretary, Zillur Rahman, put it are: revival of the scrapped law for preservation and display of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's portraits, allowing the Opposition to practice its democratic right to hold demonstrations and rallies, and end what he has termed a "persistent political persecution."

`Offer ridiculous'

Briefing newsmen on Thursday night, the former Prime Minister and leader of the League, Hasina, termed the offer as "ridiculous". She said "the Government invites us to a dialogue on the one hand and mounts its repression on our leaders and workers on the other".

She referred to the "merciless torture" of arrested party workers, student leaders and former Ministers, including filing of graft cases.

The senior Minister and BNP secretary-general, Abdul Mannan Bhuyan, phoned Mr. Rahman on Thursday to propose the dialogue. The offer was made after the Prime Minister gave a formula "to end for good", what she described, "the endless dispute over the portrait" and requested the Awami League to consider displaying portraits of the late President, Zia-ur Rahman, her husband, along with that of Mujibur Rahman. The League rejected the offer, terming the proposal as "out of test". It holds the view that Mujibur Rahman, father of the nation, cannot be paralleled with any one, more so with Zia-ur Rahman, who was an unknown Army officer till the nation's war of liberation in 1971.

Nonetheless, political analysts see the Government's offer of dialogue positively, particularly when the two parties failed to sit across the table so far. The trouble began after the controversial bill scrapping the law to display Mujibur Rahman's portraits was passed in Parliament on March 21 amid protests.

As angry League leaders and workers suffered lathicharge in the streets of Dhaka and elsewhere, the authorities were seen as adamant refusing permission to the Opposition to hold even a peaceful hunger strike. Sheikh Hasina announced a series of agitations countrywide to end what she termed "a fascist Government".

The Government's offer came hours after the barring of an Awami League scheduled rally in Dhaka on Thursday. "It is nothing but a political stunt", Sheikh Hasina, said. But the BNP secretary-general, Mr. Bhuyan, said the Government has offered to hold dialogue with the Opposition with utmost sincerity. But Begum Khaleda Zia sounded a note of warning, saying her Government would "not allow any anarchy in the name of political movement."

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