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Row erupts over U.S. envoy's poll remarks

Bangladeshi political parties yesterday criticised remarks on forthcoming elections and post poll priorities made by the U.S. ambassador to the country, accusing the envoy of meddling.

Gulf News

Bangladeshi political parties yesterday criticised remarks on forthcoming elections and post poll priorities made by the U.S. ambassador to the country, accusing the envoy of meddling.

Ambassador Mary Ann Peters said on Tuesday that she was confident elections due in October would be free and fair, and that the winners and losers would accept the results graciously. "I am confident that Bangladesh will rise to this challenge, that the coming elections will be free, fair and credible, that the winners will win graciously and the losers will accept defeat graciously," she told a meeting of the American Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.

In its first 100 days the new government should solve the problems plaguing the main Chittagong Port, streamline power and telecommunication sectors, decide on export of gas to India, and prepare for garment exports in a quote-free world, Peters said

The next elections would be "critically challenging" for Bangladesh's fragile democracy, she said, adding that her government would provide $1.5 million to help make the elections "free, fair and credible".

But her speech infuriated Bangladesh politicians. "Peters should immediately be declared persona non grata as her remarks were a naked interference in Bangladesh's politics and economy," said a statement by Bimal Biswas, general secretary of the Bangladesh Workers Party and a spokesman for an alliance of 11 leftist parties.

Another left-wing party, the CPB, also accused the envoy of meddling. "Such comments are expression of naked imperialist interference and are devoid of accepted diplomatic norms," CPB President Manjurul Ahsan Khan and General Secretary Mujahidul Islam Selim CBP said.

CPB is a major partner in the left wing alliance which keeps its distance from both the ruling Awami League party of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the main Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

Sheikh Hasina's five-year term ends in July, when a caretaker government takes over to organise elections within three months. At a press conference in Dhaka on Wednesday, Sheikh Hasina reacted to Peter's comments, saying "my Awami League will have its election manifesto and will run the new administration accordingly... anybody can say anything." She asked why "such sermons did not come when military regimes organised elections, but (have come) at a time when we are working to strengthen democracy a after a long struggle shedding blood."

Leaders of the main opposition BNP and the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami also blasted Peters for her "unwarranted" remarks. "She (Peters) should not dictate to us. We know how to practise democracy and run parliament," said BNP leader Imran Saleh Prince.

Bangladesh opposition parties have been boycotting Parliament since July, 1999 to try to press the government into calling an early election. A four-party opposition alliance led by BNP of former prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia has termed the government corrupt and unfit, and has forced more than 85 days of strikes since the government of Sheikh Hasina came to power in June 1996.

At least 50 people killed and over 500 injured in strike-related clashes in last five years.

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