- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 30, 2002


DHAKA, Bangladesh This former corner of British India celebrated its 31st Independence Day this week with a colorful military parade, but the main opposition party stayed away from the festivities amid friction between the major political parties.

Columns of soldiers marched and military planes and helicopters flew overhead and demonstrated aerobatics in a two-hour parade on Tuesday that was attended by thousands of spectators, including ministers, members of Parliament and diplomats.

Prime Minister Khaleda Zia was present on the occasion, as was President Badruddoza Chowdhury, who took a ceremonial 31-gun salute.

But main opposition leader Sheik Hasina Wajed and top members of her Awami League party were absent. Last year, Sheik Hasina attended the Independence Day ceremonies as prime minister, and Mrs. Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party stayed away.

The two main parties are engaged in renewed conflict after the Parliament last week scrapped a law requiring that portraits of Bangladesh's founder, Sheik Mujibur Rahman, be displayed in public buildings.

Sheik Mujibur, who was Sheik Hasina's father, declared Bangladesh independent from Pakistan on March 26, 1971. The Pakistani forces surrendered after a bloody nine-month independence war, which was supported by India.

Sheik Hasina has called for a nationwide strike on April 6 to express anger at the government for the slight to her family. She also blasted the government for sending police to break up a demonstration on Sunday against repeal of the portrait law.

The Awami League's 58 lawmakers have boycotted the 300-member Parliament since being ousted from power on Oct. 1. The party has said the lawmakers will also resign their seats, but has not announced a timetable.

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