December 30, 2008 / 12:46 AM / 10 years ago

FACTBOX - Bangladesh: economic challenges, turbulent past

(Reuters) - Bangladesh conducted a largely peaceful poll for parliament on Monday to bring the South Asian country of over 140 million people back to democracy, ending nearly two years of emergency rule.

Unofficial results showed an alliance under the Awami League’s Sheikh Hasina winning overwhelmingly. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party of Begum Khaleda Zia said some of its supporters were kept from voting and it would protest.

Here are some key facts about Bangladesh:

* THE ECONOMY:

— Bangladesh’s central bank said in November that economic growth in the current fiscal year was likely to miss its 6.5 percent target, only matching last year’s 6.2 percent expansion.

— Nearly 40 percent of Bangladesh’s population live on less than $1 (69 pence) a day. About a third of the country floods annually during the monsoon season, hampering economic development.

— Exports hit a record $14.11 billion in the last financial year ending June 2008. Ready-made garments account for more than three quarters of Bangladesh’s total export earnings, with over 90 percent of revenue coming from the United States and Europe.

— Remittances from more than 5 million Bangladeshis working overseas, another mainstay of the economy, hit $7.91 billion in the year to June 2008.

* THE COUNTRY:

* POPULATION: More than 140 million (2006-2007 provisional).

* RELIGION: 87 percent of the population are Muslim, 11 percent Hindu, 0.6 percent Buddhist, 0.3 percent Christian and 1.1 percent ethnic minorities of other faiths.

* LANGUAGE: Bengali, the state language.

* CAPITAL: Dhaka - population 12 million.

* GEOGRAPHY: 55,598 square miles (143,998 sq km), bounded by India to the west and north, India and Myanmar to the east and the Bay of Bengal to the south.

* SOME HISTORY:

— Part of British India until the end of colonial rule in 1947, the land now known as Bangladesh emerged as East Pakistan, the eastern wing of Pakistan.

— An independence campaign started by the Awami League leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman — on the grounds Urdu-speaking West Pakistani rulers denied the East equal rights — became a war in 1971. With India backing the Bengali nationalists, an independent Bangladesh was created in December 1971. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was killed, with most of his family, in a coup in August 1975.

— The years after Mujib’s assassination saw a series of abortive coups, including one in May 1981 in which soldier-turned-civilian president Ziaur Rahman was killed. Lieutenant-General Hossain Mohammad Ershad, then army chief of staff, seized power in a bloodless coup in 1982.

— Opposition groups led by Ziaur Rahman’s widow, Begum Khaleda Zia, and Mujib’s daughter, Sheikh Hasina, launched a campaign in November 1987 to force Ershad to resign. He stepped down in December 1990.

— A caretaker authority held Bangladesh’s first free elections on February 27, 1991. Khaleda’s BNP won a majority and she became the country’s first woman prime minister. Khaleda and Hasina held power alternately for 15 years until 2006.

Writing by Jijo Jacob and Carl Bagh. Additional writing and editing by David Cutler and Jerry Norton

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