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Bangladesh opposition rejects offer to join gov't

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FARID HOSSAIN | November 18, 2013 08:23 AM EST | AP

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DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — A U.S. official urged Bangladesh's feuding politicians on Monday to hold a dialogue to end their impasse, as the country's main opposition party rejected an invitation from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to join what she calls an all-party government to oversee national elections scheduled for January.

Hasina, meanwhile, appointed eight ministers to an interim election-time administration, a move likely to increase tensions ahead of the polls. Two are from her ruling Awami League and the others from outside the party.

The formation of the interim government "underscores the urgency of immediate dialogue" between the government and the opposition, visiting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Desai Biswal told reporters after meeting separately with Hasina and her bitter enemy, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.

Biswal said Washington wants the election to be "credible to the people of Bangladesh."

In a rare contact last month, Hasina telephoned Zia to invite her to dinner to discuss the political impasse. Zia declined, citing a general strike she called that day.

Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its 17 allies have launched a campaign of general strikes to demand that Hasina resign to allow the formation of a non-partisan caretaker administration to supervise the polls.

Hasina has refused to step down and instead invited Zia to join an all-party government. Zia says the polls could be rigged if Hasina stays in office.

"We don't accept this so-called all-party government. We want Hasina to go so a non-partisan government can take office," said Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, a Zia aide.

Bangladesh has held three general elections overseen by constitutionally mandated caretaker administrations since 1996. But that provision was abolished in 2010 after the Supreme Court declared it invalid.

The current system allows Hasina to stay in power until a new election is held.

"Our main job will be to create an enabling environment for the polls," said Anisul Islam Mahmud, one of the ministers appointed Monday. "We hope to hold a dialogue with Begum Khaleda Zia."

Senior government official Mosharaff Hossain Bhuiyan said more ministers will be included in the interim government, but did not say how many.

The South Asian nation has a history of political turmoil. Violence during recent opposition-sponsored protests has left 30 people dead.