DHAKA Former Bangladeshi leader Sheikh Hasina will extend her stay in the United States indefinitely over concerns about murder charges brought against her, party officials said on Thursday.
Police charged Hasina and more than 50 others with murder on Wednesday, as the army-backed interim government's clampdown on corruption in politics entered its fourth month.
"We have requested our leader to delay her return in the wake of a fictitious murder charge filed against her," Abdul Jalil, general secretary of Hasina's Awami League, told Reuters.
The request was made after senior party leaders met late on Wednesday to assess the situation, Jalil said.
"An adviser to the interim government had also contacted me and Sheikh Hasina, and assured both of us that the administration would take care that her image was not tarnished," Jalil said.
He declined to name the adviser or give details.
Government adviser M.A. Matin, who also heads a national task force dealing with corruption cases involving VIPs, confirmed he had "contacted Abdul Jalil to convey the government's assurance to Sheikh Hasina".
The murder charges filed on Wednesday were mostly brought against members of the Awami League, including Jalil, and several leaders of the rival Jamaat-e-Islami party.
About 160 senior politicians have been detained in a crackdown on graft launched by the military-backed interim government after it took charge on January 11 and imposed a state of emergency amid widespread factional violence.
Hasina's arch-rival, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chief Begum Khaleda Zia, has been placed in virtual confinement at her Dhaka home. Khaleda ended a five-year term as prime minister last October.
Newspapers reported that the government was planning to send Khaleda abroad. Party leaders declined to confirm the reports and government adviser M.A. Matin denied such a plan.
Khaleda's son, Tareque Rahman, a BNP leader and her political heir apparent, has been in jail since March 7. He faces charges of extortion and abuse of power for amassing huge wealth.
The interim government, tasked with taking the country to a free and fair election, said a date for the ballot would be announced following the political clean-up.
Police said the murder charges were pressed after months of investigation into two separate cases filed by the rival groups involving the killing of 10 people in Dhaka on October 28.
A 14-party alliance led by the Awami League accused Jamaat of starting the violence resulting in the deaths, while Jamaat, in a separate complaint to police, accused the Awamis.
A court will formally hear the charges on April 22.
Jamaat-e-Islami chief Matiur Rahman Nizami and his nine party leaders were among those charged.
Hasina is on a private trip to the United States and had been due to return to Dhaka on April 23. But she brought her return forward to next week after a businessman lodged a complaint with police that she had extorted 30 million taka (over $400,000) while in power before 2001.
"The task force will investigate the extortion charges against Hasina. She won't be arrested until the charges are proved," Matin told reporters.
He did not make any comment on the murder charges.