Bangladeshi opposition leader sentenced to prison

Bangladesh opposition leader Khaleda Zia

BNP secretary-general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said the graft case against Khaleda Zia, who was given a five-year sentence on Thursday, was "influenced by political vengeance".

Khaleda Zia has always been in a bitter power struggle with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who heads the governing Awami League.

The judge read a short summary of the of the 632-page verdict in presence of Khaleda Zia, who was wearing a cream-coloured saree and wearing a scarf, sitting on a furnished chair across a tea table bearing a tissue box and a quarter litre of bottled water.

Tarique Rahman, Zia's elder son, and four others were given 10 years of jail in the politically significant case.

Reports from Bangladesh say Zia's party BNP is planning a nationwide protest Friday.

"Security has been ramped up in the capital and elsewhere in the country to thwart any untoward incidents", Dhaka Police Commissioner Asaduzzaman Mia told reporters. "She has been sheltered at the old jail at Nazimuddin Road".

Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chairperson Khaleda Zia speaks during a news conference in Dhaka on October 21, 2013.

Even if the BNP tries to build a movement claiming that the government is harassing its leader to prevent her from contesting the polls, it can be argued that the cases date back to 2008, when a caretaker government was in power.

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After the verdict, Khaleda was escorted to the central jail in the capital, a three-storey red-brick structure with barred windows surrounded by trees, to begin serving her sentence in two rooms set aside for her, jail officials said.

The judge sentenced Khaleda to rigorous imprisonment and said the term was reduced due to "her health and social status".

She is expected to appeal against the verdict, but it may affect her ability to stand in a general election scheduled for December.

Ahead of the hearing, police fired tear gas at thousands of opposition activists who defied heavy security to escort the vehicle taking Zia to court.

The verdict could bar 72-year-old Zia from running in the general elections as the country's constitution prohibits a convicted person sentenced to over two years from participating.

Thousands of supporters of the ruling Awami League party also took to the streets to show their support to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Zia's archrival.

She was accused of embezzling funds meant for the Zia Orphanage Trust and was taken to custody after the verdict. Zia was catapulted into Bangladeshi politics in the early 1980s when her husband former President Ziaur Rahman, was assassinated.

Ahead of the ruling, law enforcement used teargas to disperse several hundred opposition activists.

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