Bangladesh PM, opposition leader to talk in bid to defuse crisis

DHAKA (AFP) - Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina plans to speak by telephone to opposition leader Khaleda Zia later on Saturday to try to defuse a crisis over forthcoming elections.

"Both the leaders will talk" by telephone, Ms Hasina's aide Mahbubul Haque Shakil told AFP, while Ms Zia's spokesman, Mr Maruf Kamal Khan, confirmed the planned conversation.

Tensions rose in Bangladesh on Friday after supporters of Ms Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its Islamist allies clashed with the ruling party and police in cities and towns across the nation, leaving at least seven people dead and hundreds injured.

Ms Zia has demanded that Ms Hasina make way for a caretaker government to oversee general elections due in January. On Friday, she announced a three-day nationwide opposition-led shutdown, starting on Sunday, had Ms Hasina refused to hold talks.

Ms Zia's spokesman said the two leaders would discuss Ms Zia's demand for holding the parliamentary elections under a neutral technocrat-led government.

"She (Khaleda Zia) is eager to talk. The whole nation wants them to talk to end this stalemate over the elections," Mr Khan told AFP.

Bangladesh's politics have been held hostage for two decades by bitter rivalry between Ms Hasina and Ms Zia, who has served twice as premier.