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US urges dialogue as Bangladesh standoff worsens

Warring political parties have sparked multiple strikes and protests

US urges dialogue as Bangladesh standoff worsens

Activists set fire to an Awami League office in Dhaka during one of the recent strikes (picture: Shahadat Hosen) reporter, Dhaka

November 19, 2013

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A visiting US State Department official has called for Bangladesh’s warring political parties to hold urgent talks ahead of critical elections due by the end of January.

Nisha Desai Biswal, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, said on Monday that dialogue was an “urgent priority” on the same day the ruling Awami League formed an all-party interim cabinet ahead of polls.

The move raised further tensions with the main opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP) which boycotted the interim cabinet and called for a non-party caretaker administration, a system used before other recent elections in the country.

“The announcement of this interim cabinet simply underscores the urgency for dialogue to take place immediately to determine the way forward for peaceful, free, fair and credible elections,” Biswal said at the end of a two-day visit.

In response, prime ministerial adviser H.T. Imam said that Bangladesh did not need “foreign advice,” and gave an assurance that the elections would be credible and free.

A series of violent strikes and protests by the opposition have crippled Bangladesh in recent weeks as the country’s political standoff has escalated. More than 30 people have died and dozens have been wounded during street violence in the past month.

The BNP and other opposition parties have called for the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to relinquish power to a caretaker system used in the past four elections rather than a cabinet configured according to the parliamentary majority held by the ruling Awami League.

“The majority of people in Bangladesh want to see the polls be held under a non-party caretaker government,” said BNP acting Secretary-General Mirza Fakhrul Alamgir. “By forming an interim partisan government the Awami League has disrespected public opinion.”

The head of the BNP, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia was scheduled to meet with President Abdul Hamid later on Tuesday to request him to intervene in the political standoff.

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