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Sheikh Hasina returns home

Haroon Habib

Rousing welcome along the streets



ON HOME GROUND: The former Bangladesh Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, waves to supporters on her arrival in Dhaka on Monday. — Photo: AP

DHAKA: Sheikh Hasina on Monday returned to Bangladesh to a rousing reception by thousands of her supporters. For the former Prime Minister, the homecoming after spending 51 days in the U.S. and the U.K. marked a crucial victory in her battle against the military-backed interim government which had sought to block her return.

The president of the Awami League arrived at the Zia international airport at 4-45 p.m. by an Etihad Airways flight from London, via Abu Dhabi, amid tight security. Ten senior leaders of her party were allowed to enter the airport terminal to receive her.

However, the daughter of the country's slain founding father was welcomed by thousands of people who seemed determined to greet their leader outside the airport, notwithstanding strict Emergency regulations. Flanked by slogan-chanting supporters, the motorcade took hours to reach the Bangabandhu Memorial Museum, where her father was assassinated in 1975. She placed a wreath before the portrait of Mujib. Then she went to her husband's Shudha Sadan residence at Dhanmandi.

The interim government had thrown a security blanket around the airport. It has set up 11 checkpoints in the vicinity of her home and deployed a 53-strong police contingent in and around the place.

"It's my country; it's my home. I'm so excited to be able to return to my people, my country," the determined leader told reporters outside the airport. She had earlier defied a ban that the government had imposed on her return but failed to fly home owing to restrictions placed by it. The government lifted the ban after six days, apparently in the face of mounting pressure and wide media coverage, as well as Ms. Hasina's personal resolve to return home. While on a private visit to the U.S. and the U.K., she had been charged with murder and extortion. She dismissed the charges as "false and motivated." The military-backed government had also accused her of making "inflammatory statements" against it.

"The government made a mistake by stopping me coming home. I hope it won't make a bigger mistake....," she told reporters, seemingly cautioning it against imposing restrictions on her. However, she added that the government had shown a good gesture by lifting the ban.

Senior leaders who received Ms. Hasina at the airport said that since a state of Emergency was in force with all political activity banned, the Awami League had not organised any official reception to greet their leader.

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