Bangladesh ex-PM Hasina begins election campaign
Awamai League Chief said prayers at the shrines of Muslim saints in the holy northeastern city of Sylhet.
Bangladesh's former prime minister Sheikh Hasina formally launched on Thursday her campaign for a Dec. 29 parliamentary election that aims at bringing the South Asian country of 140 million people back to democracy.
Bangladesh has been under an army-backed interim government for nearly two years, since political violence led to the cancellation of an election in January 2007.
Hasina, chief of the Awamai League, one of the two leading parties contesting, said prayers at the shrines of Muslim saints in the holy northeastern city of Sylhet.
She had left Dhaka early on Thursday in a motorcade with other party leaders amid tight security. In addition to frequent political violence, overwhelmingly Muslim Bangladesh has seen attacks from Islamic militant groups in recent years.
On the way, Hasina, who ruled Bangladesh for five years till 2001, was greeted by thousands of chanting followers.
She waved from her bullet-proof vehicle as it entered Sylhet, 250 km (150 miles) from Dhaka and surrounded by hills and tea gardens.
Awami leaders said Hasina would return to the capital by Thursday evening and announce her party's election manifesto at a news conference on Friday.
Hasina's rival Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chief Begum Khaleda Zia, is due to visit Sylhet on Friday to kick off her own campaign, before unveiling the BNP's manifesto on Saturday.
The women rotated as prime minister of the impoverished and natural disaster-prone Indian Ocean country over 15 years until October 2006, when Khaleda's second five-year term ended.
Many blamed the duo and their followers for politically motivated violence and widespread government corruption.
Although the interim government promised reforms and a crackdown on graft that might dramatically change Bangladesh politics, economic problems limited their successes and no powerful alternatives emerged to the Anwar League and BNP as the time for promised new elections approached.
The government will end a ban on political rallies and processions this week, before fully withdrawing a nearly-two-year state of emergency from Dec. 17.
The moves were aimed at allowing robust election campaigning and creating a congenial atmosphere for what the interim authority has promised will be a free, fair and credible poll.
Hasina and Khaleda were among hundreds of politicians arrested in the authority's anti-corruption drive, but were released to ensure their parties take part in the ballot, as urged by foreign diplomats and non-governmental organisations.