Bangladesh opposition leader Zia critically ill, aide says

The former prime minister is said to have suffered a stroke followed by complications and can no longer walk

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 June, 2018, 7:41pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 June, 2018, 7:42pm

Imprisoned former Bangladesh prime minister Khaleda Zia is critically ill and needs urgent medical care, a top leader of her party said on Tuesday.

Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, a top aide to Zia, said the 72-year-old opposition leader had suffered a recent mild stroke and multiple complications. Doctors have warned that she could be paralysed if she isn’t treated quickly, he said, adding that she can no longer walk on her own.

The government has offered to have Zia admitted to two state-run medical facilities, but Zia and her party insist she needs to go to the private hospital where she has long been treated.

“She needs regular care by our trusted doctors,” said Alamgir, secretary general of Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

“We don’t have confidence” in the hospitals the government has offered, he said.

Zia was convicted in February of misusing power by embezzling some US$250,000 in donations meant for an orphanage trust.

That conviction means Zia, arch-rival of current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, could be barred from running in December national elections. Bangladesh law says anyone imprisoned for more than two years cannot run for office for five years.

She has been held since February, the only prisoner in a centuries-old jail in Dhaka.

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The government has accused the opposition party of using her illness to try to stir up sympathy for political gains. Hasina has rejected allegations that Zia’s jailing was politically motivated.

Zia’s supporters say a transfer to a hospital would provide a large morale boost before December’s election.

She was granted bail in May because of her age and health complications, but that does not mean she will be freed soon. Her lawyers say she faces more than 30 charges, including sedition and instigating violence.

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Her party and its partners boycotted the last elections, in 2014, after Hasina scrapped a system of non-political caretaker governments to oversee national elections. Hasina was re-elected.

Both Zia and Hasina emerged from political dynasties. Zia is the widow of Ziaur Rahman, a general-turned-president who was assassinated in 1981. Hasina is the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the country’s first president, who was assassinated in 1975.