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The conviction means that Zia, the longtime rival to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, will be barred from running in the next national elections scheduled for December.

Judge Mohammad Akhtaruzzaman sentenced Zia to rigorous imprisonment and said the shorter term was for "her health and social status", Daily Star reported.

Zia's conviction in the Zia Orphanage Trust case, in which her son Tarique Rahman has also been sentenced to ten years on charges of embezzling $252,000 (or 21 million taka) certainly paves the way for consolidation of power by Hasina.

Hundreds have been arrested or placed under preventive detention ahead of a February 8, 2018 verdict on the corruption case against BNP chairperson, Begum Khaleda Zia, and five others, including her son. An opposition spokesman told Human Rights Watch that thousands had been detained including members of the BNP, the Islamist political party Jamaat-e-Islami, and others not linked to any party.

Bangladesh law says anyone imprisoned for more than two years can not run for office for the next five years, but Law Minister Anisul Huq said the final decision rests with the courts. Defence lawyer Khandakar Mahbub Hossain said the verdict failed to reflect the truth.

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He said Khaleda Zia could appeal to the Supreme Court against the verdict.

Police said they had arrested at least seven BNP officials in the port city of Chittagong, including the local head of the party, after opposition supporters scuffled with police.

BNP's joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi said the sentence was a "blueprint to destroy Begum Khaleda Zia,"adding that the "people of Bangladesh will reject this verdict".

Police have banned street protests and rounded up thousands of opposition supporters in a crackdown ahead of today's ruling.

"There will be a serious leadership issue in the BNP in the absence of Khaleda". Zia was catapulted into Bangladeshi politics in the early 1980s when her husband former President Ziaur Rahman, was assassinated.

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Zia, 72, and Hasina, 70, are known as the "Battling Begums" for their bitter rivalry that has poisoned Bangladeshi politics for almost three decades.

The sentence, which makes her prohibited from contesting in this year's parliamentary poll, stems from charges against her she claimed to be politically motivated.

Hundreds of BNP supporters chanting slogans walked alongside Zia's vehicle as it approached the court, while pro-opposition lawyers staged raucous protests at the Supreme Court.

"This verdict proves that nobody is above law", he told BenarNews.

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