A court in Bangladesh granted bail to opposition leader Khaleda Zia yesterday after issuing a warrant for her arrest over a deadly fire-bomb attack on a bus, her lawyer said.
The 70-year-old was given bail when she surrendered to the court, where an estimated 5,000 supporters of her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) gathered, shouting anti-government slogans.
The party had threatened to stage protests across the politically volatile country if she was arrested on the charges, which date back to a nationwide anti-government campaign of arson in January 2015.
“She surrendered to the court this morning and was granted bail in the arson case. She also got bail in four other cases,” her lawyer Masud Ahmed Talukder said, referring to long-standing corruption and other cases.
The Dhaka magistrate court last week issued a warrant for Zia’s arrest on charges of instigating the attack, which left two people dead and dozens injured.
It took place during a nationwide blockade last year of roads, rail and waterways that Zia called to try to force Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to resign and pave the way for new elections.
The blockade unleashed a wave of bloody violence, leaving more than 120 people dead as opposition activists fire-bombed hundreds of buses and trucks and police responded by firing live rounds.
Zia was confined to her office compound in Dhaka for months during the blockade after she threatened to lead an anti-government rally through the capital on the anniversary of a disputed national election.
Hasina has vowed to prosecute BNP officials for the violence. Around 15,000 opposition supporters and dozens of senior BNP officials were arrested as part of a crackdown in the wake of the unrest.
It is not the first time that Zia — a bitter political rival of Hasina — has faced arrest.
Last year a Dhaka court issued an arrest warrant against her for alleged corruption. She was granted bail after she surrendered, but the charges remain live.
Zia’s aide Shimul Biswas said the cases against Zia were baseless and fabricated, aimed at keeping her under pressure politically. “They are designed to harass her,” Biswas said.
The BNP boycotted the 2014 general election, leaving the field clear for its rivals.
The party was further weakened by the crackdown last year, when police pressed charges against thousands of their leaders and grassroots activists over the fire-bombing campaign.
The party has recently been trying to stage a comeback, holding a leadership election this month for the first time in more than six years in an effort to introduce fresh faces into the
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