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Bdesh scraps caretaker govt for elections

Dhaka: Bangladesh`s Parliament on Thursday approved a key constitutional amendment bill that scraps the nonpartisan caretaker system to conduct general elections, a move termed by the main opposition BNP as aimed at rigging polls by the incumbent government in the country.

The approval of 15th Amendment Bill 2011 also retains Islam as the state religion, an issue that has sparked a row with religious minority groups and civil society bodies calling it against the secular spirit of the 1972 constitution.

The parliament passed the bill with a vote of 291-1, well over the two-thirds majority needed in the 345-member popular House. The Bangladesh Nationalist party led by former prime minister Khaleda Zia, which has 38 members, abstained from the voting.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the leader of the ruling Awami League, has dismissed allegations that the amendments are aimed at rigging polls.

"This is a historic moment for democracy," Hasina said, adding "We can`t allow unelected people to oversee national elections."

The lone independent lawmaker, Fazlul Azim, opposed the amendments which also brought about a series of changes to the constitution.

"This will not be good for the future of our democracy," Azim was quoted as saying.

BNP, which has already taken to the streets over the issue, warned of fresh protests against the move to end the interim system. It fears that general elections due in 2014 could be rigged in favour of the ruling party.

BNP supremo Zia will hold an emergency press conference today when she is expected to announce the party line against the landmark amendments.

Introduced in 1996 to prevent rigging and acrimonious row during elections, the country top court recently declared the system was at odds with the constitution`s main spirit that the state be governed by elected representatives.

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