Bangladesh stops 'heinous conspiracy' by army officers to topple government


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The Independent Online

The Bangladeshi military has stopped a plot by a group of hardline officers to launch a coup against the government, army officials have claimed. It said those involved were religious extremists.

At a press briefing yesterday in the capital, Dhaka, a military spokesman, Brig Gen Muhammad Masud Razzaq said the armed forces had specific evidence that up to 16 current and former officers were involved in a “heinous conspiracy” to overthrow the civilian government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

“Specific information has been unearthed that some officers in military service have been involved in the conspiracy to topple the system of democratic governance,” he said. According to the Associated Press, he said the plot had been hatched by Bangladeshis living overseas and military officers with “with extreme religious views”.

The spokesman said that two of the retired officers involved - Lt Col Ehsan Yusuf and Maj Zakir – had been arrested and that the authorities were looking for another former officer, who he named as Maj Ziaul Haq. He did not say when the arrests were made.

Few things happen in Bangladesh without a political context and there was no word last night from the government of Ms Hasina. However, Bangladesh is no stranger to coups; two of its presidents, among them Ms Hasina’s father, were killed in such incidents and there have been 19 failed attempts in the country’s history. Several observers pointed out that the military rarely gives briefings such as the one it gave yesterday.

Bangladesh has been a democracy since 1990, with the interruption of a military backed government of technocrats between 2007 and 2009. Ms Hasina, daughter of the country’s first president, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and head of the Awami League, won election that followed the interim rule, beating her rival Khaleda Zia. Mrs Zia’s husband, an army general who became president, was killed by another coup in 1981.

In 2009, just two months after she took over, Ms Hasina faced a tough challenge after border guards mutinied over complaints relating to pay and conditions. At least 74 military officers were killed

Ms Hasina ended the mutiny by offering amnesty to those involved. That has since been withdrawn and the military has been pressing for an early trial for up to 800 border guards who face charges of treason and murder.