Bangladesh top opposition leaders released on bail

Two top leaders of Bangladesh's main opposition party were released from prison on Monday, officials said, a month after they were arrested during a massive crackdown on political activists.

Police said Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, secretary general of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), and Mirza Abbas, a former minister and member of the party's top decision-making body, were freed from a jail outside the capital Dhaka.

Hundreds of supporters greeted the pair after they arrived at BNP headquarters in central Dhaka where Alamgir spoke briefly, a party spokesman told AFP.

Alamgir and Abbas were arrested on December 9 a day before the BNP were set to hold their biggest political rally in over a decade.

The party said more than 2,000 of its activists were arrested, at least one was shot dead and thousands were charged as part of a police crackdown to deter people from attending the rally.

Police said the pair had been arrested on charges of instigating violence and obstructing police work during clashes with officers on December 7 when police opened fire on hundreds of opposition activists.

Alamgir is currently the highest opposition official in Bangladesh since BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia began serving a 10-year prison term.

Zia's son and heir apparent is living in exile in London and has also been sentenced to life in prison.

In recent years Alamgir has emerged as the nation's main opposition figure rallying a diverse group of centrist, right of centre and leftist parties as they staged a series of demonstrations across the country.

Protests sparked by power cuts and fuel price hikes have erupted across Bangladesh in recent months demanding that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina step down and make way for fresh elections under a caretaker government.

Despite the arrests, the BNP staged a huge demonstration on December 10 with at least 100,000 supporters turning up in the capital and the party's MPs quitting parliament in protest.

Western governments -- along with the United Nations -- have expressed concerns over the political climate in Bangladesh, one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia.

sam/sa/axn