Supporters of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) shout slogans outside the court in Dhaka. Picture: A.M.Ahad/AP

Dhaka, Bangladesh - A Bangladesh court sentenced former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia on Thursday to five years in prison on corruption charges. The conviction means Zia, the longtime rival to the current prime minister, could be barred from running in December national elections.

Security forces fearing clashes poured into the streets ahead of the verdict, as did Zia supporters, who thronged her motorcade on the way to the courtroom.

Judge Mohammed Akhtaruzzaman announced the verdict in a special court in Dhaka's Old City. Zia, who was present in the courtroom, was convicted of embezzling some $250 000 in donations meant for an orphanage trust established when she was last prime minister, from 2001-2006

The judge also sentenced Zia's son, Tarique Rahman, and four others to 10 years in prison for involvement in the crime. All can appeal their convictions.

Law Minister Anisul Huq said Zia would be imprisoned later Thursday.

Rapid Action Battalion soldiers stand guard on a street in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Picture: A.M.Ahad/AP

Bangladesh law says anyone imprisoned for more than two years cannot run for office for the next five years, but Huq noted that the final decision rests with the courts.

"It's up to the appeals court to decide whether she will be eligible to run," he said after the verdict.

Ruhul Kabir Rizbi, a close Zia aide, rejected the verdict, saying the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was looking for a way to weaken Zia politically.

AP