Saturday, January 28, 2006

US urges Bangladesh to ensure level playing field for legitimacy of elections

photo: Christina Rocca, US Assistant Secretary of State visiting Bangladesh

The United States urged Bangladesh to ensure that the forthcoming parliamentary election likely early next year is held in a free and fair manner in order to give the winners "legitimacy."

"Elections next year are so critical that only a level playing field and elections that are free and fair will give the winners legitimacy," US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Christina Rocca told a crowded media conference at capital Dhaka, wrapping up her 3-day visit.

Her statement followed a nationwide general strike early this week called by Bangladesh's main opposition alliance to press for removal of a new chief election commissioner and two of his colleagues. The critics described their appointment as “conspiratorial.”

The 14-party opposition alliance led by the main opposition Awami League said the appointments had turned the independent body “controversial."

The alliance has expressed fears that the credibility of the elections, slated to be held in January 2007, would be jeopardized by the commission's make-up.

The opposition has threatened to boycott elections organised by the election commission. The government, which has a hefty majority in parliament, rejects the opposition charge as unfounded.

On Wednesday, a European Union delegation led by Nikolaus Scherk, Director for Asia Pacific at the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, urged Bangladesh to ensure that all parties take part in the next general elections.

Orchestrated bombing over the past five months, which have killed at least 30 people and wounded 150, has rocked Bangladesh. The government has blamed the attacks on Islamist militants seeking to introduce Sharia law.

"The U.S. is prepared to give assistance to Bangladesh in countering terrorism, the most immediate challenge it faces now," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Christina Rocca told a news conference.

But denied the report of US assistance of $ 100 million for Bangladesh to enhance its capability in dealing with counter-terrorism.

She believes that the "Bangladeshi terrorists were home grown", but she did not know whether they were linked with international terrorist groups.

Rocca said: "We would also like to see the opposition contribute to public debate in a meaningful way through public institutions such as parliament rather than through disruptive actions such as hartals (strike)."

"President Bush has recognized the Bangladesh government's steps against the terrorists as positive," Bangladesh Ambassador to the United States in Washington, Shamsher M. Chowdhury briefing reporters said.

Security Alert for American visiting BangladeshA US State Department communiqué has described the security situation in Bangladesh as volatile and said that a terrorist bombing campaign and threats to U.S. and Western interests have led to increased security measures around U.S. government facilities in and around Dhaka.

It said outlawed Islamist terrorist group Jama'tul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) has identified the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom as alleged enemies of Islam.

The communiqué said the U.S. Embassy continues to see anti-American rhetoric and sporadic anti-American pro-tests following Friday prayers at the national mosque, largely due to U.S. involvement in Iraq.

Americans are urged to avoid travel to the downtown Dhaka area on Fridays whenever possible. #

Source: Daily Star, United News of Bangladesh (UNB), AFP, Reuters and BBC