Clinton at a news conference in Dhaka on Saturday. (AFP)
Dhaka, May 5 (Agencies): US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said she was “betting on Bangladesh” today as she began a visit to the impoverished South Asian country, gripped by growing tensions over the disappearance of an Opposition leader.
She urged Bangladesh’s feuding political parties to work together and end their most recent bout of discord for the good of their country.
Clinton said that weeks of strikes and protests that have killed at least five people have undermined development and scared of foreign investors. The actions stem from the disappearance of an opposition leader last month.
She appealed to Bangladeshis to respect the rule of law and called for a robust government investigation of the missing leader and allegations by the Opposition of a brutal crackdown on dissent.
“Violent demonstrations ... exact a heavy toll, especially on Bangladesh’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens,” Clinton said. “They also send a negative signal to the international community about the investment climate here.”
“We strongly urge all sides to settle differences through constructive political dialogue,” Clinton said at a news conference with foreign minister Dipu Moni.
Clinton said that in a strong democracy, “everybody had to be rowing in the same direction because you are all in the same boat. You are going to make progress together or you are going to run into very turbulent waters”.
In recent weeks, the situation in the capital has grown increasingly tense. General strikes have paralysed the country, leading to the arrest of dozens of Opposition activists and homemade bombs have exploded across the city.
“It is important that in this country ... everybody take seriously any disappearance, any violence against activists, any oppression of civil society, any intimidation of the press,” Clinton said. “That is just what is required in the 21st century if democracy (is to be) sustainable.”
In advance of the visit by Clinton, the first secretary of state to stop in Dhaka since 2003, the Opposition suspended protests in a goodwill gesture that reflects the importance Bangladeshis place on relations with the US, one of their largest trading partners.
In talks with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Opposition leader Khaleda Zia and civic leaders, Clinton intended to stress the importance of inclusive democracy and unity to improve living conditions in the country of 160 million that the US sees as a potentially important voice for moderation among Muslim majority nations.
American officials said the trip was aimed at taking US-Bangladesh ties to a new level by creating a strategic dialogue and encouraging further cooperation on counterterrorism, health, environmental and educational issues.
Dozens of students paraded through the campus of Dhaka University today to protest Clinton’s visit, saying the US cannot be a friend of Bangladesh.