Bangladesh issues arrest warrant for ex-Prime Minister Zia after she fails to appear in court



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DHAKA, Bangladesh — A court in Bangladesh issued an arrest warrant Wednesday for former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia after she failed to appear in court for the fourth time in two corruption cases against her.

Judge Abu Ahmed Jamadder issued the warrant in the capital, Dhaka, after he refused a bail plea by the defense, which said Zia needed more time because she was sick and concerned about her security because of political unrest.

It was not clear immediately whether Zia would soon be arrested. The court order will go to the police station where the cases were registered.

"The next measures will be taken by authorities in line with law," said state counsel Mosharraf Hossain Kajol.

The charges against Zia involve an alleged illegal fund used to buy land for a charity named after her late husband, former President Ziaur Rahman.

Zia's lawyers have rejected allegations that she illegally collected more than $1 million in donations for the charity, and say the charges are politically motivated, which authorities deny.

Zia was indicted in the cases early last year, but chaos broke out when she arrived at court on Dec. 24, with her supporters attacking police officers and clashing 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 Wednesday, 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," defense lawyer Sanaullah Mia told reporters after the decision.

Bangladeshi law requires Zia to appear in court to seek bail to avoid arrest.

Zia's eldest 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.

On Wednesday, the court ordered Rahman, who lives in London, to appear before the court on March 4, lawyers said.

Meanwhile, security officials arrested a prominent opposition figure on charges of trying to "instigate an army revolt" against the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Mahmudur Rahman, a former leader of Hasina's Awami League party, was arrested for his phone conversation with a senior leader of Zia's party and another former army officer in which he talked about politics and meeting with army generals to discuss a possible military revolt, said Col. Ziaul Ahsan of anti-crime force Rapid Action Battalion.

Manna's family said he was initially picked up in a raid at his brother's home by plain-clothed men, and that he was handed over to police.

Manna, who heads a citizens' group, said his conversation was being misinterpreted.

Bangladesh has had at least 19 failed coups and two successful ones since it gained independence in 1971.

Zia currently leads a 20-party opposition alliance that has been enforcing a nonstop transportation blockade across the South Asian country since early January to demand that Hasina, her archrival, resign and a new election be called.

About 100 people have been killed, 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 that was boycotted by Zia's party.

The boycott allowed 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, Zia's main ally.

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 3 million people and raped 200,000 women in 1971.

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