Interim regime sets free top Bangladeshi leader

The military-backed interim government in Bangladesh released from jail on parole Wednesday former prime minister Sheikh Hasina to go abroad for complicated medical treatment, Ministry of Justice officials said.

As rumours of Hasina's release spread, thousands of slogan chanting supporters of the 63-year-old politician thronged the central office of the Awami League, the political party she has been leading since 1981 following her return from exile, reported dpa.

Frenetic crowds also mobbed the motorcade in which the opposition leader was driven from the special prison quarters to her residence guarded by police sharpshooters and soldiers in Dhaka's western Dhanmandi district.

"The opposition leader has been given eight weeks for treatment abroad," said prison chief General Zakir Hussain.

The parole granted by President Iajuddin Ahmad on humanitarian grounds could be cancelled any time, Hussain said.

Hasina was indicted in special courts for alleged extortion and receiving kickbacks from businessmen during her premiership between 1996 and 2001.

In solitary confinement Hasina complained to her lawyers of suffering from mental depression and urged the authorities to arrange for treatment of her ears.

Personal doctors said Hasina's ears were damaged during a grenade attack on her by suspected Islamic militants at a crowed rally in Dhaka nearly four years ago.

"Her ears may be damaged beyond repair if treatment which is not available at home is delayed," said Hasina's private secretary Hasan Mahmud.

She survived the attack which killed more than 20 people, including several party leaders.

Hasina, who carries the political legacy of her charismatic father Sheikh Mujib ur Rahman, was jailed in July last year to stand trial for at least a half a dozen corruption cases alleging extortion.

She denied the charges and stressed that she was politically humiliated by cases filed in various courts.

As part of the preparations for her going abroad, the courts excused Hasina from appearing in person during the trials which will go on in her absence.

The interim administration returned the passports which were seized from the ex-premier last year.

Bangladesh is being governed by an army backed interim authority that took over in January 2007 following widespread political turmoil.

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