Clinton "bets on Bangladesh" despite turmoil
DHAKA: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she was "betting on Bangladesh" on Saturday as she began a visit to the impoverished South Asian country, gripped by growing tensions over the disappearance of an opposition leader.
While US officials hope to highlight Washington's growing security and economic partnership with Bangladesh during Clinton's 24-hour visit, human rights are also sharply in focus as the government faces its worst period of political tension in years.
"That's why it's very important to us to continue to urge the hard decisions that are necessary for the rule of law, for transparency," Clinton said. "We don't want to see any faltering or flagging. We want to see democracy flourish in Bangladesh."
Clinton is first senior US official to visit Bangladesh since 2004, and US officials depict the trip as part of a broad US "pivot" to greater engagement across the Asia-Pacific region.
|She didn't say a bad word about the RAB, however...|
Clinton stressed her personal connections to Bangladesh, which she visited in 1995 and which her husband, former President Bill Clinton, visited in 2000 on a landmark first trip by a US president.
|I went to a meeting in Italy once. Does that give me a personal connection to the Italian government?|
And she called on both Khaleda's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Hasina's ruling Awami League to ratchet down tensions that have surged as each party have accused the other of abducting former BNP lawmaker Ilyas Ali.
|It depends. Did you wander off with any of their pens?|
"Everybody (should) take seriously any disappearance, any violence against activists, any oppression against civil society, any intimidation of the press. That is just what is required in the 21st century if democracy is sustainable," she said.
Pressure group Human Rights Watch said Ali's case was part of an alarming rise in the abduction of political activists and opposition members, and it called on Hasina's government to mount a credible investigation.
|She still didn't call out the RAB...|
The opposition said it would hold off on protests so as not to disrupt Clinton's visit. A group of about 100 students from progressive student organizations protested against Clinton's visit at Dhaka University on Saturday.
Analysts fear that more unrest could threaten Bangladesh's ambition to become a middle-income country by 2021, a drive which could benefit from more US help for its economy, additional investment and quota-free access for goods to US markets.
In January, the United States said it would provide close to $1 billion in aid for Bangladesh over the next five years and Washington wants Dhaka to sign a Trade and Investment Cooperation Forum Agreement and a strategic partnership.
|Yup, the US has to produce for Bangladesh to become a 'middle class country'. No word of what they'll do for us in turn (other than export cheap men's shirts), nor what they'll do for themselves to get ahead...|
Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni said Dhaka was stressing hopes for broader economic cooperation, including duty and quota free access to US markets and extension of its generalized system of preferences facilities.
|Partnership, fine. $1 billion? We're borrowing like mad right now. Let the Deshis find their own damned billion.|
On Sunday, Clinton is due to meet Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, the economics professor who set up microlending pioneer Grameen Bank decades ago and gained world fame as a banker to the poor.
|Do we get duty free access to Deshi markets?|
Clinton has been a staunch defender of Yunus, who was forced to step down in 2011 because he was beyond the legally mandated retirement age in what his supporters described as a political vendetta by the government against a potential future challenger to Hasina. Clinton pledged her full backing for Grameen -- now regarded somewhat warily by the Bangladesh government -- and called for an expeditious and transparent process to select Yunus' successor.
"I look forward to Grameen bank carrying on its good work for a long time to come," Clinton said.
Posted by: Steve White 2012-05-06