Bangladesh opposition leader Khaleda Zia defiant in first appearance since unrest

DHAKA (AFP) - Bangladesh's opposition leader Khaleda Zia vowed on Friday to push on with her campaign to topple the government as she struck a defiant note in her first public appearance since being effectively confined to her office.

While Ms Zia remains holed up at her headquarters in Dhaka, the authorities allowed her to address the media for the first time since she called for anti-government protests and a transport blockade at the turn of the year, sparking a wave of violence that has killed more than 110 people.

Ms Zia, a two-time former premier, used the press conference to lash out at the current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, whom she accused of turning the country into a one-party state by refusing her calls for new polls. "They have effectively created a one-party system in the country," said the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leader who refused to take part in elections in 2014 over fears they would be rigged.

"If we don't fight against it, our freedom will be at stake... Our protests will continue until they reach logical conclusion. This crisis will end only after an inclusive election is organised quickly under a neutral and non-party government," she added.

Many of those killed or injured since January have been victims of firebombings of trucks and lorries which the authorities say are a direct consequence of Ms Zia's transport blockade.

But Ms Zia reiterated claims that the violence was in fact the work of the security services as part of a bid to smear the opposition.

She also repeated calls for dialogue to end the protests saying she hoped "good sense would prevail on the ruling party".

Ms Hasina has refused to sit with "murderers and terrorists" and rejected all demands for early polls which are not scheduled to be held until 2019.

While the government has denied that Ms Zia is confined to her Dhaka offices, the site is heavily guarded by the security forces who regulate who can come and go.

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