Bangladesh opposition leader Khaleda Zia has received a short reprieve after a court postponed its decision on whether to halt her embezzlement trial that could see her imprisoned for life if found guilty.

The High Court in Dhaka had been expected to rule on Sunday over whether the trial should proceed in a separate court, but it said it would announce its decision on Wednesday.

"We expected an order today. But the court heard arguments of both sides and has now set Wednesday for an order," deputy attorney general Mohammad Salim told AFP news agency.

The former two-time prime minister lodged a last-minute legal bid to try to stop the trial which had been scheduled to start on Monday, after she was indicted on charges of embezzling more than $650,000.

Zia's lawyers have called the charges politically motivated, aimed at keeping her out of politics and destroying her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which has vowed to topple the government of arch rival Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

They argue Zia has been charged unlawfully and are seeking a court order to stop the trial, which was set to start on Monday in a special anti-corruption court in the capital, Dhaka.

Prosecutors, however, said that Zia and three of her co-accused siphoned off 31.5m taka (about $400,000) from a charitable trust named after her late husband Ziaur Rahman - a former president who was assassinated in 1981.

After a hearing in the High Court last week, Attorney General Mahbubey Alam rejected the defence's claims of political motivation, saying they were tactics to buy time.

"The charges were framed lawfully and transparently," Alam told AFP, adding that a separate high court judges' panel has already ruled that there was a prima facie case against Zia.

Nationwide protests

Zia is also accused of leading a group of five people, including her eldest son Tarique Rahman, who now is in London, in embezzling 21.5m taka (app $277,000) - funds which were meant to go to an orphanage set up in memory of her late husband.

The charges date back to her last term as prime minister from 2001 to 2006.

Zia was indicted just weeks after Hasina was re-elected in a January 5 general election which the centre-right BNP and its 18 allies boycotted and denounced as a farce.

Police detained thousands of opposition officials and supporters and charged many more during and after the election, which was the bloodiest in the country's short history.

Her party has threatened to hold nationwide protests if the court goes ahead with the trial.

Zia spent nearly two years behind bars in 2007-08 when both Zia and Hasina were detained by a military-backed government as part of a crackdown on corruption.

Both women were eventually freed without charge.

Source: AFP