The 40-minute telephonic conversation between the "Battling Begums" on Saturday, according to media reports, was largely dominated by "unpleasant arguments on bitter issues including the abortive August 21, 2004 grenade attack on Hasina, allegedly masterminded by several stalwarts of Zia's past government".

The reports said Hasina asked the BNP chief why she celebrates her "fake birthday" coinciding with the August 15, 1975 assassination of Bangladesh's founder and her father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman along with most of family members including 10-year-old Russel "whom you knew".

"You cut cakes and celebrate your fake birthday on August 15. Don't you remember the face of my youngest brother Russell whom you saw many times when you used to visit our Dhanmondi-32 house?" an Awami League leader quoted Hasina as telling Zia during the conversation. In reply, Zia said, "If someone is born on that day, can't they celebrate their birthday" and added she would not refrain from celebrating her birthday on August 15.

"Some past issues came up during their conversation but those should not be highlighted for the sake of the proposed dialogue," Zia's press secretary Mauf Kamal Sohel told reporters on Sunday. On October 26, Hasina reached out to Zia for talks to resolve a standoff on holding the next general election.

Hasina and Zia spoke on the phone, believed to be their first conversation in at least a decade, to explore possibilities of a dialogue. The premier invited Zia to hold talks over dinner at her official residence but the opposition leader turned down the offer.

On Sunday, Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury criticized Zia for "refusing to accept" Hasina's invitation and making "indecent" over birthday celebration. Chowdhury, however, said Hasina's invitation to Zia for dialogue over a dinner was still valid and "we are still optimistic about finding a solution through dialogue".

Zia on Friday issued a two-day deadline saying "We give you (Hasina) two days time (and) unless you take steps for dialogue within the period, a 60 hour hartal will be observed across the country from October 27". The two leaders eventfully talked ahead of the expiry of the deadline.

BNP's acting secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir on Sunday told reporters that the 60-hour strike was unlikely to affect the dialogue initiatives. The BNP-led 18-party opposition alliance called the strike demanding restoration of the neutral caretaker government system to oversee the country's next general elections, which are to be held by January 25, 2014.


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