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US sees progress but indicates no sanction withdrawal

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The United States has recognized progress in last three months with regard to the activities of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), against which Washington slapped sanctions in December last year.

The US has not indicated the withdrawal of sanctions at least for the time being but agreed to work with Bangladesh on the matter.

The sanctions named several serving and former RAB officials.

“You know we have concerns about how the RAB has performed, about extrajudicial killing, about enforced disappearances. We have seen progress in the last three months in mitigating these,” US Under Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland told journalists after the eighth edition of Bangladesh-US partnership dialogue at the state guesthouse, Padma. 

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Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen and Nuland led their respective sides to the dialogue that took place after a pause of two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.    

Describing the sanction issue as complicated and difficult, Under Secretary Nuland, flanked by Foreign Secretary Masud, said: “We look forward to working together on these things because our cooperation on security and counter-terrorism is very important to us.”

She also said that Washington would continue speaking out against human rights violations anywhere in the world.

The under secretary, the third highest ranking official at the US Department of State, said Dhaka had handed over a working plan in relation to RAB activity during the dialogue and the US intended to work with Bangladesh.

In this regard, Foreign Secretary Masud said that Bangladesh had given a diplomatic paper to the US side detailing the activity of RAB and the steps taken by the government recently.

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“They will discuss it in Washington. We will continue discussions. This will be discussed in different formats. Hopefully, we will be able to resolve the issue in due time,” he said.

Masud also said: “We have raised deep concern about the recent US treasury sanctions imposed on RAB and related individuals, and not only explained how this might affect the efforts of Bangladesh government to combat terrorism and transnational crimes, but also elaborated how our government has been addressing the challenges.”

About the topics of discussion at the dialogue, the foreign secretary said: “We had a frank, elaborate and quite fruitful discussion today on the whole gamut of the bilateral relations between our two countries, encompassing political, economic and security domains.

“This partnership dialogue is indeed the first one with the Biden Administration, and also the first among a series of dialogues scheduled in coming months. Thus, Bangladesh is considering today’s discussion as the beginning of a rejuvenated robust engagement with our US friends,” he said.

Bangladesh deeply values its multifaceted relations with the United States, which is based on shared liberal values of upholding democracy and human dignity, commitment towards maintaining international peace and security and aspiration for socio-economic development of people, said Masud.

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“In fact, our political, economic, security and people-to-people relations are based on this ideological pivot. While we have discussed the areas of excellent mutual cooperation like Rohingya issue, COVID-19 vaccine support, US development assistance, capacity building in security sector etc., we have also exchanged views on areas of yet untapped potentials like exchange of high-level visits, investment, trade facilitation, connectivity, stronger defence and security cooperation etc,” he said.

The foreign secretary said: “Finally, I would say, and in fact this is what we have told to our US colleagues today, that Bangladesh has high expectations from the Biden Administration in terms of building a comprehensive partnership. Bangladesh will remain keen in this regard, with the view to work closely with the US in our journey together towards peace and prosperity.”

According to the Foreign Ministry, the two governments at the dialogue reaffirmed their commitment to enduring partnership, highlighting close cooperation on security, development, humanitarian assistance, and counterterrorism.

Both sides agreed to continue to cooperate closely to advance a shared vision of a free, open, inclusive, peaceful, and secure Indo-Pacific region. In this regard, Foreign Secretary Masud underscored the need for having economic component in the IPS. In response, the US side informed that an economic framework of the IPS would be released soon. They also exchanged ideas on important issues of bilateral, regional, and global interest and concern, including the current situation in Ukraine, Afghanistan, and Palestine.

Dhaka and Washington also discussed on other human rights and labour rights related issues. Bangladesh delegation also raised the issue of the deportation of Rashed Chowdhury, the convicted killer the Father of the Nation. 

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Discussion on the issue of repatriation of forcibly displaced Rohingyas also took place. The Bangladesh side deeply appreciated the strong political and humanitarian support of the US on the Rohingya issue, and underscored Bangladesh’s priority on the repatriation of the displaced Rohingysa as soon as possible. Under Secretary Nuland assured of US’s continued political and humanitarian support for the Rohingya crisis.

Both sides expressed interest in bolstering security and defence cooperation, as well as maritime cooperation.

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Politics

Vast majority of Bangladeshis want good relations with neighbours: FM tells South Asia Correspondents

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Foreign Minister Dr Hasan Mahmud has said the vast majority of the people of Bangladesh now understand that it should have good relations with neighbours – for its own prosperity as well as that of the region.

He said his party (Bangladesh Awami League) is painted as a ‘pro-Indian’ party but AL is a pro-Bangladeshi party.

“There are anti-Indian elements. We specifically see this issue during elections. But the anti-Indian sentiment is gradually diminishing in Bangladesh,” he told the members of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of South Asia during an interaction in New Delhi on February 9.

The Foreign Minister said the tablet or capsule of blaming Awami League as a pro-India party does not work anymore like the past.

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“Today, the vast majority of the people understand that for the prosperity of Bangladesh and the region, neighbours should have good relations,” he said while responding to a question.

Asked about balancing relations, the Foreign Minister said Bangladesh-India relationship is not comparable to any other relations.

“Bangladesh’s relations with India are bonded by blood and shared sacrifice during the War of Liberation in 1971,” Hasan said.

He said although China is not Bangladesh’s immediate neighbor but it is a neighbor and a development partner of Bangladesh.

The Foreign Minister said they face a lot of challenges due to the wave of fake news. He said this is a problem even in Europe and shared how fake news was spread during Covid-19.

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He mentioned that this is an area where all need to work together. “We can work together to fight against fake news.”

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Last national election was open for all AL members for sake of democracy: PM Hasina

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Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Saturday (9 Februay) said if she did not allow her party members to take part in last month’s election as independent candidates the democracy of the country would have been snatched away.

“If the election was not open for all (AL members), then not only the election would have been stained, the democracy of the country would have been hijacked too,” she said.

The prime minister was delivering her introductory speech at the extended meeting of Awami League at her official residence Ganabhaban.

This election was important to maintain the country’s status as a developing country, she said.

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“We should not forget the election manifesto that we announced before the election to retain this achievement. Every year during the budget formulation we follow the election manifesto,” she said.

Hasina, also the chief of ruling Awami League, said that her party has also opened the upcoming upazila elections for all her party members to make it participatory.

“It will also be scrutinised how much work has been done for the common people in the last 15 years while in power, and who could not deliver. Through it we will see who is accepted by the people,” she said.

She issued warning against any sort of confrontation in the upcoming local government elections.

“We do not want any kind of confrontation. Stern actions will be taken against the individuals responsible for it no matter who they are,” she said.

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Claiming that the 12th parliamentary election was free, fair and impartial, Hasina said that those who want to dispute the election, they must give clear evidence.

She said that elections have been held in many developed countries of the world, but these are yet to be accepted by their opponents.

“Even the post-election violence has resulted in murders. But the election in Bangladesh was very fair. Public administration, the armed forces, law and order enforcement and all those involved in the election have performed their duties impartially,” she claimed

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Political crisis nearing climax: Rizvi

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The BNP today said the country’s long-standing political crisis is now nearing its climax as people are taking to the streets risking their lives to resist a one-sided election.

“The chief election commissioner surrendered to Sheikh Hasina instead of protecting the interests of the people and taking proper steps to ensure a free, fair, and participatory election,” Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, senior joint secretary general of the party, said in a virtual press conference.

The BNP leader alleged that the EC announced the schedule for the next election ignoring the continuous movement for free and fair elections.

Rizvi also alleged that the commission announced the election schedule on the instruction of the government, ignoring the appeals of the country’s civil society, the international community, and foreign diplomats.

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“When the CEC announced the schedule, he should have also mentioned the time of voting, whether it will be at night, or during the daytime, or early morning.”

The BNP leader said the government has established a regime where those who demand free and fair elections are being attacked.

He said their ongoing movement to restore the power and rights of the people will be a warning for all the autocrats.

Rizvi said the BNP leaders and activists are being arrested indiscriminately. “If they [law enforcers] can’t detain them, they are arresting their fathers, fathers-in-law, younger brothers, and even women in the house.”

He said law enforcers arrested more than 12,900 leaders and activists in 289 cases across the country since October 28.

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