Hasina offers olive branch to Zia, says polls ‘legitimate’

InternationalRelatives of one of the victims of poll-related violence breaks down Monday. tapon dey

Bangladeshi premier Sheikh Hasina Monday asserted that her re-election in the much-disputed polls was legitimate and appealed to her arch-rival, BNP chief Khaleda Zia, to shun "terrorism" and severe ties with the fundamentalist Jamaat to strike a deal on the next elections.

"I call upon all again, including the honourable leader of the opposition (Zia), for peaceful talks discarding the path of terrorism and violence and severing ties with war criminals and the militant Jamaat," a beaming Hasina said, offering an olive branch to the opposition leader.

"A solution can be reached on the next elections only through talks. For that everyone will have to have restraint, tolerance and stop political violence of all sorts," the 66-year-old told reporters in her first comments after the polls.

The boycott of Sunday's polls by the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) should "not mean there will be a question of legitimacy", said Hasina. "People participated in the poll and other parties participated."

Hasina's Awami League won 104 of the 147 seats for which polling was held Sunday. Having won 127 seats uncontested, the party now has 231 seats, which gives it a clear three-fourths majority in the 10th parliament.

She said fresh elections might be arranged if the Awami League and BNP, led by former Prime Minister Zia, were able to reach a consensus.

The BNP-led 18-party opposition alliance boycotted the polls that were marred by violence which claimed nearly 30 lives since Saturday. Opposition cadres set over 200 polling stations on fire Sunday.

The opposition kept away from the polls after Hasina spurned their demands to step down and make space for a neutral caretaker government for overseeing elections.

"Look, I tried my best, I told you, I offered ministries, I offered to share power with our opposition. I have done as much as I can do but they didn't respond," she said. "Now if they realise they made a mistake in not participating in election, perhaps then they may come forward to discuss with us or make an offer."

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