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US Senate hearing

Bangladesh faces worrisome pol situation

Call for holding fresh credible polls: Concern over extra-judicial killings

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Terming the January 5 election in Bangladesh a 'deeply flawed' one, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Desai Biswal on Tuesday said this could have serious ramifications for stability as the election failed to express will of the people.Biswal came up with the remarks in her testimony before the hearing at the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in Washington began at 10am (Washington DC time) on Tuesday.The hearing on "Prospects for democratic reconciliation and workers' right in Bangladesh' that Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), also chairman of the senate foreign relations committee, presided over continued for more than two hours.It was the third hearing of the US Senate Committee on the current political situation in Bangladesh."In spite of gains in economic growth, development, and regional stability, Bangladesh faces a worrisome political situation. On January 5, the government held a deeply flawed election in which one of the two major political parties did not participate," said Biswal. Stressing the need for holding a fresh election with the participation of all  political parties, she said, "I want to state very clearly that our interest in holding new elections which will be transparent and inclusive." Biswal mentioned that all of international partners including the US have voiced strong concerns over the poll and we also supported the UN efforts to reach a consensus among rival political parties.The United States has not taken sides or played favorites in who should lead the country. "That decision should be left to the Bangladeshi people, whose voices were not fairly heard on January 5," shed added.She expressed her hope that Bangladesh's political and economic leaders will take the right steps to support democratic values, foreign direct investment, and a growing economy. "Bangladesh has come too far and has too much to lose."Expressing displeasure over the use of violence for political gains, she said, "We're disturbed by political parties' use of violence, inflammatory rhetoric, and intimidation, and by violence against minority communities and killing by security forces." "We have consistently delivered one other message as well: violence is unacceptable and not part of the democratic process," she said. She also expressed concern over 'recent reports of continuing extrajudicial killings and disappearances allegedly committed by security forces'.Bangladesh's turmoil has created uncertainty with foreign investors and impacted economic growth, she observed.Biswal further said that the US would continue to engage with the Bangladesh Government and opposition to encourage policies and actions that protect and advance democratic values, including respect for human rights, space for civil society to flourish, rule of law and an independent judiciary.She also focused on mutual respect for all religions and all ethnicities, and space for free and peaceful discussion of political differences unmarred by violence.Acting Associate Deputy Undersecretary for International Affairs, Bureau of International Labor Affairs, US Department of Labor, Eric Biel, Chairman of the Board of Directors, Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, Ellen Tauscher and Executive Director, Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, Kalpona Akter also took part in the hearing. The hearing also covered talks about the condition of worker safety at workplace and government action to improve it.It also talked about Bangladesh's measures to get restored generalised system of preferences (GSP) facilities for Bangladeshi products to the US market as pledged by the US president Barack Obama.  The hearing expressed concern about the removal of Muhammad Yunus from Grameen Bank. 'It is a political move to punish Muhammad Yunus,' Senator Richar J Durbin said.In his welcome speech, Menendez said, "We meet to discuss US policy in Bangladesh following the controversial January election and ensuing political stalemate.""Last month, I sent letters to Bangladesh's political leaders telling them that the political deadlock will further weaken the confidence of international investors and strongly urged that they begin negotiations on new elections that are free, fair, peaceful and inclusive. The people of Bangladesh deserve no less," he added.

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