DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Saturday urged Bangladesh's feuding political leaders to work together and end their most recent bout of discord for the good of their impoverished country.
Clinton said that weeks of strikes and protests that have paralyzed the country and killed at least five people have undermined development and scared of foreign investors. The actions stem from the disappearance of an opposition leader last month.
She appealed to Bangladeshis to respect the rule of law and called for a robust government investigation of the missing politician and allegations by the opposition of a brutal crackdown on dissent.
"Violent demonstrations ... exact a heavy toll, especially on Bangladesh's poorest and most vulnerable citizens," Clinton said. "They also send a negative signal to the international community about the investment climate here."
"We strongly urge all sides to settle differences through constructive political dialogue," Clinton told reporters at a news conference with Foreign Minister Dipu Moni.
She said that in a strong democracy, "everybody has to be rowing in the same direction because you are all in the same boat. You are going to make progress together or you are going to run into very turbulent waters."
Clinton visited the county as first lady with her daughter, Chelsea, in 1995 and later worked with New York's Bangaldeshi community as a U.S. senator. She said she felt strongly about the country's success. "This is personal for me," she said.
In recent weeks, the situation in the capital has grown increasingly tense. General strikes have brought the country to a standstill, leading to the arrest of dozens of opposition activists, and homemade bombs have exploded across the city.
"It is important that in this country ... everybody take seriously any disappearance, any violence against activists, any oppression of civil society, any intimidation of the press," said Clinton, who arrived in Bangladesh from China where she was embroiled in the case of a blind Chinese activist who had fled to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. "That is just what is required in the 21st century if democracy (is to be) sustainable."
In advance of the visit by Clinton, the first secretary of state to stop in Dhaka since 2003, the opposition suspended protests in a goodwill gesture that reflects the importance Bangladeshis place on relations with the United States, one of their largest trading partners.
In talks with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, opposition leader Khaleda Zia and civic leaders, Clinton was stressing the importance of inclusive democracy and unity to improve living conditions in the country of 160 million that the U.S. sees as a potentially important voice for moderation among Muslim majority nations.
American officials said the trip was aimed at taking U.S.-Bangladesh ties to a new level by creating a new strategic dialogue and encouraging further cooperation on counterterrorism, health, environmental and educational issues.