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Ban calls for halt to violence

US, Australia, C’wealth, Japan want immediate talks

Diplomatic Correspondent

The United Nations, Commonwealth, the United States, Japan and Australia expressed their disappointments over the January 5 national elections and urged for immediate dialogue for fresh and credible polls.
The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, saddened by the deadly violence that marred parliamentary elections in Bangladesh, has urged restraint, calling such violence “unacceptable” and appealing to the political parties to urgently address the expectations of the people for an inclusive political process.
In a statement issued by his spokesperson, the UN chief expressed sadness at the loss of life and violent incidents that marred the January 5 parliamentary elections, which were characterised by polarisation and low participation.
‘He regrets that the parties did not reach the kind of agreements which could have produced a peaceful, all-inclusive election outcome,’ the statement said on Monday.
Ban in the statement called on all sides to exercise restraint and ensure first and foremost a peaceful and conducive environment, where people can maintain their right to assembly and expression. ‘Violence and attacks
on people and property can never be acceptable,’ he said.
The secretary-general called on the political parties to resume meaningful dialogue and to urgently address the expectations of the people of Bangladesh for an inclusive political process.
‘The UN will continue to support the country’s democratic processes in accordance with the principles of inclusiveness, non-violence, reconciliation and dialogue,’ he said.
Japan is also deeply concerned over political violence which resulted in death and injury of so many people over the last several months in Bangladesh.
‘We strongly condemn all sorts of violence and intimidation toward people of Bangladesh, including attacks against peaceful political activities, assault on minority communities, arbitrary arrest and obstruction of electioneering,’ Japanese ambassador Shiro Sadoshima said in a statement on Tuesday.
He said Japan is aware that the people of Bangladesh have strong aspiration for making political choice based on their own free will without fear of violence.
‘Therefore, we are deeply disappointed by the fact that no agreement was achieved among major political parties on political framework prior to the implementation of the 10th parliamentary election.’
Shiro said Japan believes that to preserve and further nurture the achievements of nation-building over the past decades since its independence, the political leadership in Bangladesh, regardless of their positions, should immediately initiate serious efforts to provide Bangladeshi people with a voting opportunity for making political choice in a manner that responds to their aspiration.
The US is disappointed by the recent elections in Bangladesh, said a State Department statement.
‘With more than half of the seats uncontested and most of the remainder offering only token opposition, the results of the just-concluded elections do not appear to credibly express the will of the Bangladeshi people,’ it said.
‘While it remains to be seen what form the new government will take, United States commitment to supporting the people of Bangladesh remains undiminished. To that end, we encourage the government of Bangladesh and opposition parties to engage in immediate dialogue to find a way to hold as soon as possible elections that are free, fair, peaceful, and credible, reflecting the will of the Bangladeshi people, said the statement.
The State Department condemned the violence from all quarters that continues to mark the prevailing political impasse.
Violence is not an acceptable element of the political process, it said calling on all to stop committing further violence.
It said Bangladesh’s political leadership – and those who aspire to lead – must do everything in their power to ensure law and order and refrain from supporting and fomenting violence, especially against minority communities, inflammatory rhetoric, and intimidation.
Bangladesh seeks a way forward that is in keeping with its strong democratic traditions, the statement said adding ‘we call upon the Government of Bangladesh to provide political space to all citizens to freely express their political views.’
‘We also call strongly on the opposition to use such space peacefully and responsibly, and for all sides to eschew violence, which is not part of democratic practice and must stop immediately.’
Later, at a regular press briefing in the state department on Monday afternoon, questions were asked about whether Washington is planning to work with the new government or halt aid to Bangladesh.
In response Marie Harf, the deputy spokesperson, said ‘Well, we’ve been very clear about our strong concerns about the selection and what we think the way forward should be. We believe Bangladesh still has an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to democracy by organizing free and fair elections that are credible in the eyes of the Bangladeshi people.’
She said, ‘We did note that we were disappointed by the recent parliamentary elections, especially because so many of the seats were uncontested or only had token opposition. Obviously, we believe going forward things should be done very differently.’
Asked about future of Bangladesh given ongoing violence and demonstration, Marie said Bangladesh still has a chance to have a different future, that we obviously condemn in the strongest terms the violence coming from all quarters, believe that violence has no place in a democratic process, and encourage Bangladesh going forward – the parties – all parties and all sides – to come together and move away from that kind of violence.
Asked how having no election observer on the ground they call it a bad election, she retorted: ‘Well, I think when we say observers, that’s people like at polling stations. What I base the statement on was that more than half of the seats were uncontested, and most of the remainder offered only token opposition. Obviously, you don’t need to have an observer at a polling place to see that.’
Asked if there is some kind of coordination with the Indians on the Bangladesh issue, she said she will check it. Asked if they conveyed the US concern over election to the Bangladesh government, she said she will check it.
Asked if US is planning to invoke provision of halting aid to Bangladesh as US does not consider it credible elections, Marie again said that she will check it and see what the future holds in terms of Dhaka-Washington relations relationship and what that might look like.
Meanwhile, Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma in a statement said the limited levels of participation and the low voter turnout are disappointing. The acts of violence are deeply troubling and indeed are unacceptable in response to any political situation.
‘In the Commonwealth Charter, it is a shared responsibility of governments, political parties and civil society to uphold and promote democratic culture, including the inalienable right of individuals to participate in free and fair elections.’
He said, ‘Therefore, it is critical that Bangladesh moves quickly to find a path forward through dialogue to a more inclusive and peaceful political process in which the will of the people can be fully expressed.’
Kamalesh said, ‘The Commonwealth remains ready and willing to assist Bangladesh in advancing democratic cultures and processes, freedom of expression, the rule of law and our other shared core values, just as we offer this support to all our member countries.’
Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop has expressed deep concern at the ongoing violence and political discord which marred the election in Bangladesh.
It has been reported that both the Awami League government and the opposition coalition led by the Bangladesh National Party contributed to the unstable political conditions, she said.
She said while the elections were constitutionally valid, less than half the parliamentary seats were contested and voter turnout was low.
The Australian government condemns the attacks against minorities, and called on all sides to end the political violence.
Julie said it is vital that the people of Bangladesh are able to express their democratic will and exercise real choice.
She said the government and the opposition must take up their shared responsibility to hold a new, fully contested and transparent election as soon as possible.

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