India airs concern over Bangladesh violence, calls for talks

Dhaka, Dec 4 : India Wednesday voiced concern over the violence in Bangladesh unleashed by the opposition and called for dialogue to resolve differences among political parties ahead of the Jan 5 parliamentary elections.

Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh met Bangladesh's main political players, and said India as a fellow democracy "hopes that the forthcoming elections will strengthen democratic institutions, practices and processes in Bangladesh".

"We hope that the forthcoming elections will respond to the aspirations of the people of Bangladesh and that they will be free, fair, impartial and peaceful and find wide acceptability," she said.

On her first visit to Dhaka since taking over as the foreign secretary, Singh met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leader and former prime minister Khaleda Zia, and Jatiya Party leader and former president H.M. Ershad, besides other top officials.

During her meeting with Hasina at her Tejgaon office here, the Indian foreign secretary conveyed "the high importance which India attaches to having good relations with Bangladesh and to peace and stability in Bangladesh".

She said India and Bangladesh "cannot remain indifferent to or unaffected by developments in each other's countries".

"India's consistent view has been that a strong, stable, independent and well developed Bangladesh is in the interests not only of the people of Bangladesh but also in the interests of the people of the region," she said.

During her meeting with Zia, Singh said India wants to see stability and continuation of democracy in Bangladesh.

BNP vice chairman Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury, briefing reporters after Singh's meeting with Zia at the former premier's Gulshan residence, said the Indian foreign secretary referred to Khaleda's visit to India in 2012.

Singh said India's relations with the BNP had touched a new height following Zia's visit and hoped that it will improve further in the days to come.

Khaleda termed India as Bangladesh's closest neighbour and said their bilateral ties should move forward on the basis of mutual benefit, Mobin told reporters.

Singh, who arrived at 5 p.m. for talks with Zia as the head of a seven-member delegation, held an hour-long meeting.

She also met Ershad earlier at his house in Baridhara.

The Indian foreign secretary urged the former Bangladesh president to participate in the parliament elections, and said militants "might rise" if his party keeps away from the polls.

Ershad has announced that his party will not participate in the Jan 5 elections.

"They said if we don't participate in the election, the fundamentalist group Jamaat-Shibir will rise and come to power. They asked whether I want this," Ershad told reporters after his meeting with Singh.

Singh also held a meeting with Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali, of the interim government, at the foreign ministry.

Her visit comes two days ahead of a visit by a UN envoy who is to hold talks with political parties about ending the political standoff.

UN Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco is to arrive Dec 6 to hold discussions on "election preparations".

Bangladesh is witnessing widespread violence with the BNP-led 18-party opposition-sponsored 131-hour countrywide blockade of roads, rail and waterways continuing for the fifth day Wednesday.

The BNP and its allies are pushing for postponement of the polls and indulging in violence.

--IANS (Posted on 04-12-2013)

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