Zia to step down until Bangladesh election

Dhaka - The Prime Minister of Bangladesh , Begum Khaleda Zia, gave in to months of pressure yesterday and asked President Abdur Rahman Biswas to set up a caretaker government to oversee fresh elections. Senior bureaucrats had told the president earlier that they could not work from today unless the country's political crisis was resolved.

"The Prime Minister has requested the president to give his assent to the Constitution (13th Amendment) Act, 1996, passed on Tuesday and immediately take the initiative to form a non-party caretaker government," state television said, adding that the prime minister reiterated her pledge to hold the election in May. However, Mrs Zia's move stopped short of meeting opposition demands that she resign by yesterday.

Senior bureaucrats had earlier asked the president to set up a caretaker administration.

"The administration, economy and law and order have all collapsed. As there is no obstacle to the formation of the caretaker government, we have suggested to the president that it should be formed immediately," said a statement signed by the Cabinet Secretary, Ayubur Rahman, the country's most senior civil servant, warning that workers would not be able to perform their duties "unless the situation improves".

Analysts and diplomats described the bureaucrats' move as a blow to Mrs Zia's government. "It suggests that Mrs Zia's days have now been reduced to hours," one diplomat said.

The bureaucrats expressed their inability to work shortly after opposition parties had said Mrs Zia must stand down to enable a new law mandating a caretaker government to take effect. Parliament, which almost entirely consists of members of Mrs Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party passed the law on Tuesday in an attempt to end the long-running political crisis.