Bangladesh detains 50 party members

Nearly 50 people, mostly members of Bangladesh's two main parties, were detained late on Friday, police said, after the parties rejected talks with the army-backed interim government on elections due later this year.

Most of those detained belonged to the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

"It was confirmed that the detainees were trying to instigate the people against the interim-government," a senior officer in the joint army, paramilitary and police forces said on Saturday without giving details.

The Awami League and BNP are seeking the release of their respective leaders, former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Begum Khaleda Zia respectively. Both parties have threatened to launch countrywide protests if their leaders were not released.

Both Hasina and Khaleda are in detention on graft and corruption charges, which they deny.

The parties, along with three other smaller political groups, rejected the offer last week of talks with the interim government to discuss how to prepare for the parliamentary election, which is due in the third week of December. They said they would not take part until their leaders were released.

James F Moriarty, US ambassador to Dhaka, said: "We will be disappointed and the people of Bangladesh will be disappointed if no elections are held this year."

"The government and the parties should reach an agreement through dialogue," he told a meeting of the Bangladesh Political Science Association on Saturday.

Leaders of Awami League and the two factions of BNP said the new wave of crackdowns was planned to stop parties from organising activists and supporters to launch a nationwide protest to press for the release of their leaders.

"We have launched the drive as the law and order situation deteriorated in the country recently," police chief Nur Mohammad told reporters.

Khaleda and Hasina are among more than 170 political figures detained as part of a crackdown on corruption that the government launched soon after taking over in January 2007.