Power restored at Bangladesh opposition leader's office

DHAKA - Bangladesh restored power to the office of opposition leader Khaleda Zia, an official said Sunday, nearly a day after it was cut in an apparent bid to force her to call off crippling protests.

A spokesman for Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) said power was restored some 20 hours after a technician of the state-run power agency cut the lines, sparking a hail of criticism.

Internet, satellite television and mobile phone network at the office, where Zia has been holed up since she launched a nationwide transport blockade early January, remained severed.

"We got back power late Saturday night. But other lines including broadband internet, fax, cable televisions and mobile phone remained snapped," BNP spokesman Shamsuddin Dider told AFP.

The power line was cut after a government minister reportedly threatened to sever the office's electrical supply and force Zia to starve to death if she did not call off the nationwide transport blockade.

Zia has been confined to her office in Dhaka's upmarket Gulshan district since threatening to rally her supporters against the government of bitter rival Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on January 5, the first anniversary of a disputed general election.

Her confinement has coincided with the death of her youngest son in Malaysia. Tens of thousands of mourners turned out at his funeral Tuesday in a massive show of support for the embattled former premier.

While holed up, Zia has called a nationwide blockade of roads, railways and waterways, triggering deadly unrest that has left at least 42 people dead and nearly 800 vehicles firebombed or damaged.

She also called a 72-hour strike from Sunday, despite nationwide high-school examinations in which about 1.5 million students are taking part.

Zia wants Hasina, her rival of nearly three decades, to call fresh polls after last year's controversial polls, which opposition parties boycotted on the grounds they would be rigged.

The boycott meant most members of the 300-seat parliament were returned unopposed, handing Hasina another five years in power.

Zia denies the BNP and its Islamist allies were responsible for firebombings and has demanded the release of opposition officials and leaders detained over the violence.

Hasina has accused Zia of trying to trigger "anarchy" and ordered the security agencies to hunt down the protesters.

The EU, the nation's biggest export destination, has urged Hasina's government and the opposition to hold talks to resolve the crisis.