A court here on Sunday set 23 May for starting the trial of BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia and seven others in the Niko corruption case as the court framed charges against them.

After Judge Sheikh Hafizur Rahman of the Special Judge's Court-9 of Dhaka read out the charges today, Khaleda, who is now on bail, pleaded not guilty through her lawyer Masud Ahmed Talukder and demanded justice.

Earlier, the judge rejected the petition submitted on behalf of Khaleda seeking time for hearing on charge framing against her on the next scheduled date.

Four others -- BNP acting chairman Tarique Rahman's close friend Giausuddin Al Mamun, former acting secretary for energy ministry Khondaker Shahidul Islam and its former senior assistant secretary CM Yusuf Hussain -- also pleaded not guilty after the same judge read out the charges.

The same judge also dismissed the petition submitted on behalf of former Dhaka Club president Selim Bhuiyan seeking time for his non-appearance, cancelled his bail and issued an arrest warrant against him.

Charges were framed against him in absentia. Three others, including former principal secretary to the former prime minister Kamal Uddin Siddiqui, have remained absconding.

During the hearing today, Judge Sheikh Hafizur Rahman expressed dissatisfaction over repeated petitions for adjournment.

In December 2007, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) filed the case accusing Khaleda and several others for abusing power to award a gas exploration and extraction deal to Canadian company Niko when she was prime minister between 2001 and 2006.

Earlier, three of the accused in the case -- former state minister for energy and BNP leader AKM Mosharraf Hossain and former law minister Moudud Ahmed-- died and their names were dropped from the charges of case.