Bangladesh court upholds arrest warrants against opposition leader

By Serajul Quadir DHAKA (Reuters) - A Bangladeshi court on Wednesday upheld arrest warrants against opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia and called her a fugitive after she again failed to appear to face graft charges that have stoked political tensions. Authorities issued the warrants last week, after almost two months of anti-government protests called by Khaleda's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). She dismisses the corruption allegations. Her lawyer Khandaker Mahbub argued on Wednesday the warrants should be lifted as the charges were politically motivated and said she would appear as soon she felt sure of her safety. His appeal was dismissed. More than a hundred people have died in protests that surged on Jan. 5, the first anniversary of contested national elections that the BNP boycotted, denouncing them as rigged. Khaleda has been caught up in a standoff with Prime Minster Sheikh Hasina, calling for her government to step down for a new vote under a caretaker administration. Bangladeshi politics has been mired for years in rivalry between Hasina and Khaleda. Both women are related to former national leaders and have alternated as prime minister for most of the past two decades. Hasina told the parliament on Wednesday that Khaleda's failure to appear was an affront to the court. "Now law will take it own course and action will be taken according to direction of the court," she added. Khaleda is accused of embezzling $650,000 during her last term as prime minister from 2001 to 2006, and of instigating violence. She has denied all the charges. (Reporting By Serajul Quadir; Editing by Andrew Heavens)