Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina held rare talks with the opposition Thursday, days after its imprisoned leader was given a fresh sentence that will keep her behind bars for 10 years.
Hasina’s ruling Awami League party had earlier rejected any calls for talks with her opponents and ruled out accepting its demand for the dissolution of parliament before elections next month.
In an abrupt about-face, the prime minister hosted members of the opposition coalition at her Dhaka residence late on Thursday to discuss — but did not back down in her refusal to appoint a caretaker government for the polls.
Former foreign minister Kamal Hossain brought a group of 20 opposition officials to the meeting, according to Awami League deputy chief Obaidul Quader.
Hasina rejected the delegation’s key demand for a caretaker government, Quader said.
The visitors were “not satisfied” with the talks, said opposition Bangladeshi Nationalist Party deputy chief Fakhrul Islam Alamgir.
The talks came as Hasina’s chief rival, former premier Khaleda Zia, was on Tuesday handed a seven year prison term on graft charges, while another appeal court doubled her sentence for an earlier embezzlement conviction.
Zia and Hasina have been rivals since the 1980s, when both women allied to force the country’s former military dictator from power.
The duo alternated power for two decades until Zia boycotted national polls in 2014, sparking violence across the Muslim-majority democracy of 160 million.
Zia’s is the only inmate in an otherwise abandoned 19th-century jail and her health has deteriorated in custody. Her physician said she was suffering from diabetes and that arthritis had rendered her left hand useless.
Lawyers for Zia have accused the government of putting her health at risk by refusing her specialized care in prison.