Dhaka, May 11: Bangladesh's army-backed interim government has eased restrictions on former prime ministers Sheikh Hasina and Begum Khaleda Zia after criticism that the two women had been placed under virtual house arrest, officials said on Friday.

Leaders of Hasina's Awami League met her at home on Thursday without "haggling by security forces" they said on Friday, while Hasina was allowed out of her home to visit a relative.

But security officials still prevented ordinary party workers as well as journalists from getting to see them and maintained tight security on the rival leaders, who alternated as prime minister of the volatile south Asian country for 15 years until 2006.

The easing of restrictions came after Fakhruddin Ahmed, head of the interim government, told the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) on Wednesday that they were free to go about their business.

Bangladesh has been under a state of emergency since January, imposed in the wake of widespread violence between supporters of Khaleda and Hasina. An election planned for Jan. 22 was also cancelled and all political activity banned.

Fakhruddin has said he hopes to complete the electoral reforms -- including preparing a new voters roll -- before end of 2008.

Retired army brigadier Sakhawat Hossain, a key official at the Election Commission, told a private television station on Thursday night that the commission would complete its task fully and honestly without being pressured by anyone or any quarter.

"We are here to do a job ... and we know how to do it best," he said.

Bureau Report