The 69-year-old Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chairperson left her upmarket Gulshan office where she has been staying since January 3 to surrender in a special anti- graft court that granted her bail in two graft cases involving over USD 650,000.
Zia's court appearance came 39 days after an arrest warrant was issued against her over repeated absence from trial in graft cases involving two charities named after her
husband, slain president Zia-ur Rahman, and could see her jailed for life.
Zia, who is also a three-time prime minister, reached the court at Bashibazar area in old part of Dhaka while her motorcade was piloted by police cars as she came out of her office located on the other side of the capital.
Dhaka's Third Special Judge Abu Ahmed Jamadar granted bail to Zia and two other accused, saying: "I wouldn't have issued arrest warrant but I was forced to."
He added: "(But) I had to agree with the state counsel's argument that the trial cannot progress without issuing an arrest warrant.
The judge said he had no wish to send Zia to jail, given her age and that if she was found innocent, she would be acquitted.
Chief prosecution lawyer Mosharraf Hossain Kajol earlier told the court they would not oppose bail considering Zia's "status, social and political dignity and age" as her counsels filed petitions seeking the bail.
Defence lawyers said Zia's absence from the court was "unintentional", attributing it to mainly "security reasons" and due to her son Arafat Rahman Koko's death.
The former premier waved to supporters, who chanted pro- Zia slogans, as she left the court to return home.
A huge contingent of elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and armed police secured the court premises to prevent any law and order situation in the wake of clashes between BNP activists and ruling Awami League supporters that erupted when she last visited the court.
The bail could be a sign of easing tension in volatile Bangladesh where political unrest has claimed over 130 lives in the past 90 days. In another such potential sign, police overnight allowed party activists to enter their central office after three months.
Unlike ordinary prisoners, Zia was offered a comfortable chair in the courtroom during the hearing while the judge fixed May 5 for the next hearing.

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