DHAKA, Dec 17 – Bangladesh’s army-backed government Wednesday scrapped a state of emergency that had been in place for nearly two years and ramped up security across the country ahead of elections in 12 days.
Bangladesh’s police chief, Nur Mohammad, confirmed a presidential order to lift the emergency at one minute past midnight had been implemented.
The measure repeals laws that have been in place since emergency rule was imposed 23 months ago on January 11, 2007, after months of violent nationwide political violence had brought the country to a standstill.
"There is no emergency after one minute past midnight (18:01 GMT Tuesday)," police chief Mohammad said.
Commentators hailed the move as a major step to restoring democracy in the poor South Asian nation, which has had a history of coups and counter-coups since winning independence from Pakistan in 1971.
"Emergency out, rights in," blared the biggest English-language newspaper, The Daily Star, rejoicing that "the nation today finds its fundamental rights reinstated after around two long years."
The December 29 election will finally see caretaker authorities hand back power to a democratically elected government to run the nation of 144 million people.
Police said there was no change in law and order following the lifting of the emergency, with extra security mobilised amid fears the scrapping of curbs would lead to violence.
"Things are very much peaceful here, except intense election campaigning by candidates," Sheikh Maruf Hasan, police chief of central Manikgank district, told AFP.
Some 300,000 police and paramilitary personnel are to be deployed at more than 35,000 polling stations during the vote, the first in Bangladesh in seven years.
Army chief Moeen U Ahmed said the army would be deployed from Saturday to "deter any attacks or acts of sabotage."
The interim government also formally rolled back its nationwide anti-graft drive by abolishing the powerful National Coordination Council, the state-run BSS news agency said.
The military-manned task force, set up in March last year, filed thousands of graft cases and ordered arrests of hundreds of politicians, including two former premiers, scores of ex-ministers, lawmakers and top businessmen.
Since coming to power, the army-backed regime has pushed through political reforms, including an election register which eliminated more than 12.7 million fake names.
The government’s corruption crackdown saw Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina Wajed and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) counterpart Khaleda Zia detained for a year on graft charges.
Both women, former prime ministers, have been released on bail in deals to ensure their parties, the biggest in the country, take part in the elections.
Scrapping the emergency rule completely had been a key demand of the Awami League and BNP, who threatened to boycott the vote if restrictions remained in place.
At least 35 people were killed in unrest during the three months before the state of emergency was imposed by President Iajuddin Ahmed.
He also cancelled elections slated for January 2007 after the Awami League and its allies accused the BNP-led government of vote-rigging.