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2 top officials from US, India arrive in Dhaka today

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Two high-level foreign officials — US State Department Counselor Derek Chollet and Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra — are expected to arrive in Dhaka today.

While Chollet’s visit may prominently feature the Rohingya crisis and promoting democracy in Myanmar, Kwatra will hold the foreign office consultation to discuss bilateral relations ahead of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to New Delhi to attend the G20 Summit in September, said diplomatic sources.

During his two-day visit, Chollet, an official of the rank of an under-secretary, will meet Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen. He is expected to call on PM Hasina.

Chollet’s visit comes on the heels of a series of senior US officials’ tour to Bangladesh in recent months. In January alone, Eileen Laubacher, senior director for South Asia at the US National Security Council, and Donald Lu, US assistant secretary for South and Central Asia, visited Dhaka.

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Though Bangladesh and the US have a robust relation, it was strained following the sanctions against the Rab and seven of its current and former officials in December 2021.

Initially, Dhaka was in a mode of denial, but eventually it said it may have some mistakes and will be making corrections when required.

Lu, during his visit, lauded Bangladesh for the reduced number of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.

While Washington is critical of Bangladesh’s 2018 national polls, media freedom, space of the civil society organisations, it is keen to deepen engagement with Dhaka given its geostrategic location in the Indo-Pacific region, which is becoming a place of competition among the global powers.

“Mr Derek Chollet is expected to discuss the ways of bolstering US-Bangladesh relations. Especially, he will learn of the Rohingya situation on the ground and the humanitarian response,” Seheli Sabrin, spokesperson for the foreign ministry, told reporters last week.

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A US delegation  on Sunday started visiting the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar.

Diplomatic sources said the US is attaching increased importance to promoting democracy in Myanmar, and helping Rohingyas, with more than one million living in Cox’s Bazar camps.

In December last year, the US Congress passed the BURMA Act meant to impose tougher sanctions against the regime leadership, support the pro-democracy movement and provide critical humanitarian assistance.

A diplomatic source said the US has been the largest donor for the Rohingyas sheltered in Bangladesh, and under the BURMA Act, it is mandated to bolster support at a time when the humanitarian assistance for the Rohingyas is declining amid Russia-Ukraine war.

Washington is urging all the regional countries, including South Asian and Southeast Asian ones, to create pressure on Myanmar junta, which took control of the country through a coup two years back. However, the civilian National Unity Government (NUG) and other rebel groups now control about 80 percent of the country’s territory.

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Diplomatic sources said Washington wants Dhaka on its side as it supports the NUG and pro-democracy groups of Myanmar.

Foreign ministry officials said Dhaka will request Washington to lift sanctions, and support Bangladesh in addressing Rohingya crisis. It will also seek more US investments and transfer of technologies to adapt climate change challenges.

Meanwhile, Indian Foreign Secretary Kwatra will arrive in Dhaka on a two-day visit today evening, ending an official visit to Nepal.

Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen will hold foreign office consultation (FOC) with his India’s counterpart tomorrow.

Foreign ministry officials said Dhaka and Delhi will take stock of all aspects of Indo-Bangla relations and discuss preparations for the upcoming visits of Foreign Minister Momen to New Delhi early March to attend the G20 foreign minister’s level meeting and PM Hasina’s visit to Delhi on September 9-10.

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G20 is the premier forum for international economic cooperation.

Kwatra is also expected to call on Hasina and Momen.

Hasina may hold a bilateral meeting with her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the summit.

From the Bangladesh side, addressing trade barriers and increasing export to India, Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement and taking forward water-sharing issues of the common rivers will feature prominently in the FOC, officials said.

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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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