Friday, April 29, 2011

IOM to evacuate stranded migrants to Bangladesh

SALEEM SAMAD

THE STRANDED migrants awaiting evacuation at Egyptian border will be flown into Bangladesh by International Organization for Migration (IOM) next week.

IOM in response to the urgent request of the Bangladesh, the Libya evacuation coordination body of IOM has decided to arrange more chartered flights to bring back Bangladeshis from Al Saloum at the Egyptian border,

IOM office Bangladesh in a press release on Thursday said, IOM will charter five additional flights. It is expected 930 migrant workers are planned for evacuation. Nevertheless, the return of the rest 300 Bangladeshis is also in the pipeline.

Flight details are yet to be confirmed, but it is expected to commence from next weekend, 30 April, says Asif Munier, spokesperson of IOM in Bangladesh.

Nearly 60,000 Bangladeshi migrant workers were employed before the crackdown of pro-democracy activists in Libya. Until now 29,859 Bangladeshi who fled troubled Libya were evacuated and safely returned home.

IOM confirmed that it will monitor and support return of more Bangladeshis who are trekking from Libya to neighboring Tunisia or Egypt.

Ms Rabab Fatima, regional representative of IOM Bangladesh said the fund of US $160 million was request for the second phase of evacuation from troubled Libya. However, only $68 million was available. [ENDS]

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and politics. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Monday, April 25, 2011

Bangladesh probe found no wrongdoing of Nobel winner Muhammad Yunus

SALEEM SAMAD

Bangladesh said a government probe body did not discover any wrongdoings of Grameen Bank, founded by Nobel laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus.

Finance Minister AMA Muhith on Monday admitted that the interest rate of the Grameen Bank is lowest among the micro-credit lenders in the country. His comments was made came after the government appointed probe body, to look into activities of Grameen Bank submitted its report to the finance minister.

Controversy about the bank began in November 2010 when the Norwegian state television NRK ran a documentary titled 'Caught in Micro Debt', that accused Yunus, the bank's managing director, of transferring funds to Grameen Kalyan, a sister concern, from the bank, breaching the agreement made with the fund's donor, Norwegian aid agency Norad, writes wire service bdnews24.com.

The government constituted a committee on January 12 in the wake of controversy about the pioneering micro finance institution, which shared the Nobel Peace prize with its founder Muhammad Yunus in 2006.

The probe report was submitted when French president Nicholas Sarkozy special envoy is visiting capital Dhaka to understand the development about the dismissal of Grameen Bank's managing director Muhammad Yunus.

The French envoy Martin Hirsch told journalists on Monday that he finds it 'surprising' and 'difficult to understand the difficulties' between the government, the Grameen Bank and Muhammad Yunus.

The envoy admitted that his mission to Bangladesh was to explore any scope for mediation for an amicable settlement to the issue, dispelling notions of interference in state affairs. The primary objective was to bring the government and Prof. Yunus together in the upcoming G-20 meeting.

He handed over a letter of president Sarkozy to prime minister Sheikh Hasina on Sunday, said bdnews24.com said. The content of the letter was not disclosed.

Meanwhile, the largest circulated independent daily Prothom Alo in a first page article on Monday published a news article which says that government has decided to launch a campaign against Prof. Muhammad Yunus, pioneer of microfinance globally.

In a meeting at the Prime Minister Office attended also by security and intelligence services chiefs it was decided to inform the public that the bank’s founder have violated laws, ignored official norms and charging exorbitant interest rates from the poverty-stricken village women.

The unknown sources told the daily that an official memo on March 13 has been circulated to the Special Branch of police and police headquarters to take necessary action. However, the newspaper did not mention what kind of action by the police has been initiated.

Political scientist and economist Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman on Monday said such attempts by the authority would be suicidal. The government should take steps to save the most talked about micro-lending institution Grameen Bank should, he suggested. [ENDS]

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and politics. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Muhammad Yunus knew seeking to enter politics in Bangladesh would receive ‘bruising response'

SALEEM SAMAD

Professor Muhammad Yunus, pioneer of microfinance seems to have been aware of the risks and consequences of a political ambition he made after the military takeover in 2007 in Bangladesh, an Indian newspaper wrote on Friday.

The Hindu newspaper quoting The Indian Cables accessed in Wikileaks, the whistleblower internet-based news hub said Nobel laureate Yunus told Henry Jardine, the U.S. Consul General in Kolkata, India that he was aware of the “potentially bruising response” it would provoke from the ‘two ladies' [Sheikh Hasina, the current Prime Minister, and Khaleda Zia, former Prime Minister] and other established political figures.”

Understanding that Yunus strong interest to join the political fray, Manoj Mohanka, president of the Calcutta Chamber of Commerce (CCC), raised few questions about the “messy world” of Bangladesh politics and the “likelihood of Yunus reputation being tarnished.” Yunus responded and said that “he understood the dangers,” but “felt that responsible people had to step into the political field to make a real change in Bangladesh, which was wracked by corruption and poor governance.”

When US diplomat raised questions about rising Islamic radicalism, Yunus explained that “Muslim fundamentalists are a fringe not accepted by the Bangladeshi mainstream.”

In March 2011, the Bangladesh Central Bank removed Prof. Yunus as the Managing Director of Grameen Bank he founded, holding that he was 70 years old, well past retirement age. His appeals against the order were rejected by the courts, including finally by the Supreme Court.

A cable (96421: unclassified) sent on February 13, 2007 from the U.S. Consulate in Kolkata documented in detail the conversation between Jardine and Yunus when the latter visited Kolkata to participate in certain programs. During a conversation over lunch, which was hosted by the CCC, Jardine enquired about Yunus political ambition.

Yunus bitterly criticized Awami League [the ruling political party led by Sheikh Hasina], a primary advocate of a socialist, secular nation, had signed an agreement with fundamentalist group Bangladesh Khelafat Majlish ”to “recognize fatwas (religious edits) issued by Imams and block the introduction of laws contrary to Sharia law.”

Yunus in response to Consul General explains that it was “a reflection of the Awami League’s moral bankruptcy and was based on pure political calculus to garner a few additional votes and another example of the need for a new political party.”

The founder of Grameen Bank was receptive to the idea of Bangladesh expanding economic relations with India. However, he was concerned “that often it became a divisive political issue, with Bangladeshi politicians stoking resentment against India for political gain.” He was also quick to point out that all was not well with the Indian government too, “particularly the significant non-tariff barriers that restricted Bangladeshi goods from reaching Indian markets.”

Grameen Bank founded in 1976 empowered nearly 10 million poverty stricken population, mostly women, who received modest banks loans. Prof Yunus and the Grameen Bank together were awarded the coveted Nobel Peace Price in 2006.

Describing his mind, he narrated to the U.S. diplomat, included the opening of the Chittagong port to regional trade with India, Burma, Bhutan and China, and “the possibility of financing a new ‘mega-port' project in Chittagong to meet the regional demand” through the Grameen Bank.

The cable concluded after documenting Yunus views, and said he was “a person of great moral stature and strong organizational skills” and that his candidacy “could offer a possible out from the present Hasina-Khaleda a zero-sum game that cripples Bangladesh's democratic process.” [ENDS]

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and politics. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Vitamin A enriched rice in five years to defeat deficiency

SALEEM SAMAD

AGRICULTURE SCIENTISTS in Bangladesh have plans to develop genetically-engineered Vitamin-A enriched rice variety in five years.

A genetically modified variety, the Golden Rice will go through greenhouse and field tests before advancing into production phase, like cultivation and harvest.

Unlike other poor countries, pregnant women and school children in Bangladesh suffer from preventable diseases which could be conquered by Vitamin-A supplements through most consumed food item.

Vitamin-A deficiency is a major cause of preventable blindness in children in Bangladesh. It also impairs growth, lowers resistance to infections and increases the risk of dying. In pregnant and postpartum women, Vitamin-A deficiency can have serious consequences for the health and survival of women and for the Vitamin-A status of their children.

In another front, government is expecting to fortify 300,000 metric tons of edible oil sold in retail markets. The initiative will ensure to reach remote villages, where Vitamin-A capsules is difficult to distribute.

"This week we are applying for permission to import the beta carotene-rich BRRI Dhan-29 from the IRRI experiment field and make a greenhouse trial at BRRI prior to going for open field trial in Bangladesh," Dr Alamgir Hossain, principal plant breeder at Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) told independent English newspaper Daily Star.

Dr Hossain told The Daily Star on Saturday that once released commercially, consumption of only 150 gram of Golden Rice a day will supply half of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin A for an adult. This is expected to revolutionize fighting Vitamin-A deficiency in the mostly rice-eating Asian countries where the poor have limited access to vitamin A sources other than rice.

Seattle-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on April 13 provided a grant of over $10 million to IRRI to develop and evaluate Golden Rice varieties for Bangladesh and the Philippines. It is expected that the Golden Rice variety of BRRI Dhan-29 will be ready for regulatory approval by 2015.

HKI Vice President and Regional Director for Asia-Pacific Nancy Haselow says, “The most vulnerable children and women in hard-to-reach areas are often missed by existing interventions that can improve Vitamin A status, including Vitamin A supplementation, food fortification, dietary diversification, and promotion of optimal breast-feeding.” [ENDS]

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and politics. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Monday, April 18, 2011

Rights bodies worried over abductions, extra-judicial killings

SALEEM SAMAD

Bangladesh rights groups are worried over scores of abductions by plainclothes security agents and extra-judicial killings.

Rights groups have documented the whereabouts of 22 people were alleged, picked up by anti-crime squads last year and are still unknown, according to a study by Ain-O-Salish Kendra (ASK).

The high court on July 19, 2010 directed the chief of police to investigate the case of missing Chowdhury Alam, a city councilor, who is one among those who have been abducted. He was abducted from the capital Dhaka.

The police chief has repeatedly denied of politician’s abduction and detaining him an in unknown place. However, police did not take any effort to find the person who is missing since June 19 last year. His family is worried about his safety and security of the family members too.

Sultana Kamal, a social justice activist and chairman of the rights group ASK, said on Monday, "Such allegations against law enforcers is worrying," she told English language The Independent.

Recently Mufti Fazlul Haque Amini, a leader of Islamic clerics at a press conference charged the government for abducting his youngest son Abul Hasanat who is missing since April 10. Police is yet to trace the person, not took effort to find him.

The Islamist in anger threatened the government to paralyze the country, if his son does not return home soon.

Two years ago the elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion allegedly picked up expelled Jubo League, youth organization leader Liakat Hossain, who was listed as most wanted criminal, from Dhanmondi residential area. His family is yet to hear the fate of Hossain. The authorities have not heeded to repeated appeal of his wife.

Adilur Rahman Khan, General Secretary of rights watchdog Odhikar "If such a situation prevails, the scenario of human rights in the country could worsen." [ENDS]

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and politics. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Four killed, scores hurt in worst ethnic clash in Bangladesh hills


Photo: Bangalee settlers torch indigenous homes in Manikchari on April 17, 2011
 SALEEM SAMAD

IN A worst ethnic riot four Bangla-speaking settlers were killed and 50 others injured over land grabbing at Ramgarh upazila, south-west Bangladesh on Sunday.

According to official sources, the four deceased were Bangla-speaking Muslim settlers from land hungry floodplains and some of the injured were admitted to government health centre in "critical condition".

The civil administration imposed a ban on movement and assembly of more than three persons in the riot-torn area. Large contingent of law enforcing officers are patrolling the region to maintain peace.

The worst riot in a year began in the afternoon and continued for nearly three hours, before riot police and para-military forces pacified the rivals.

Independent newspapers Daily Star correspondent who could be reached over mobile phone and identified as Cippru Marma, an indigenous of the area said, the incident took place as settlers wanted to grab their ancestral lands and were planting banana trees.

Local administration official also said that at least 20 houses of the Buddhist ethnic people were torched in reprisals for the killings.

Dispute over land ownership is one of the major causes of conflict between Bangalees and the ethnic groups in the hill-forest area, a home to at least 15 ethnic communities.

The plain land settlers allegedly occupied lands which belonged to the ethnic minorities during the two decade-long insurgency from mid-1970s to late 1990s.

The insurgency came to an end through signing of a 1997 treaty between the government and the ethnic groups. [ENDS]

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and politics. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Islamic zealots threatens to paralyze Bangladesh

SALEEM SAMAD

AN ISLAMIST leader threatened on Friday that he could paralyze the country in an hour if his missing son does not return home at the soonest.

Recently the Islamists shutdown throughout the country on April 4 demanded of the government to scrap the women’s policy which advocates gender equality and education policy, which the Muslim zealot described both as anti-Islamic. The government rejected their claim.

Mufti Fazlul Haque Amini, leader of Islamic clerics said in the morning that he had no doubt that prime minister have knowledge of the disappearance of his son, Abul Hasanat, who has been missing since Sunday last.

Amini, chairman of faction of the Islami Oikya Jote (IOJ) claimed that plainclothes security agents kidnapped his youngest son in the capital Dhaka. However, the law enforcement agencies have vehemently denied it. Police is yet to trace the whereabouts of Hasanat.

Missing person’s elder brother Abul Farah described to an English daily last week that five to six people with weapons and walkie-talkies dragged his brother in a sports utility vehicle having tinted windows, leaving two witnesses who are his friends.

The Islamist party also a major alliance partner of the mainstream opposition warned while addressing a meeting of Muslim bigots at the National Press Club.

Amidst thunderous claps he spoke loudly that “if my son is not set free, I have the power to make the country paralyze within an hour.”

"We will not retreat from the campaign to implement Islamic Sharia law in the country, even if his family is intimidated, like they did to my son."

The Islamist vowed that no anti-Islamic groups would be allowed politicking secularism and western democracy to take charge of the state power. [ENDS]

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and politics. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Bangladesh to legalize political Islam, ignoring courts decision to restore secularism

SALEEM SAMAD

DESPITE ELECTORAL promise and apex court’s ruling to restore secularism, the Bangladesh parliament is poised to bring an amendment to establish Islam as state religion and legalize religious politics.

The Sunni Muslim majority nation of 158 million will relax stringent restrictions imposed in the constitution of 1972.

The constitutional amendment committee members said in “prevailing political reality” the parliamentary special committee on constitutional amendments on Monday decided to advocate for relaxing restrictions on political Islam so that Islamic parties can continue functioning without any restrictions.

The provision of Article 38 of the Bangladesh constitution bans use of religion for political purposes. Instead, the article allows every citizen to form associations or unions, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of morality or public order.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, leader of the ruling Awami League, at Monday’s meeting said the ruling party would not curb the political rights of Islamist parties. The secularist activists expressed there frustration and women rights groups are disgusted after recently hearing prime minister's political vision to keep Islam as state religion in the constitution.

The Awami League government in 1972 banned religion-based organizations after Islamic parties collaborated with the marauding Pakistani army that killed 3 million people in nine months in 1971.

Hasina, also the leader of the House, made it clear to the committee that her government would keep “Bismillah’ir Rahman’ir Rahim” (Faith in Allah) in the preamble of the constitution and retain Islam as the state religion.

Two previous military rulers, Gens. Ziaur Rahman and H.M. Ershad deliberately doctored the constitution to keep the Islamists in good humor. In 1978, the provisions of article 38, prohibiting communal bodies, were dropped while in 1988 Islam became the state religion.

The dreaded Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami, whose leaders are now facing war crime charges, became politically active following the 1978 order.

Earlier in July last year the apex court, in a landmark judgment banned political parties that propagate Islamic ideology, reverting to the original constitution of 38 years ago.

Moments after the judgment the rights groups seems to be excited by the court’s verdict and interpreted that it was a major blow to the Islamist parties which foresees Sharia law for apparently a secular Muslim population and also advocates Koran and Sunnah which will eclipse the state constitution.

"It seems that the government is reading a wrong message from the secularists and liberal Muslims," remarked Shahriar Kabir, a researcher on Muslim radicalism and extremism.

A secularist advocate, Shahriar Kabir, said the prime minister’s statement has confused the nation and it seriously contradicts the verdict of the superior court. It seems that the war criminals and their adversaries have nothing to fear. Their parties would continue to function and overtly work against the war crimes trial, he remarked. [ENDS]

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and politics. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Monday, April 11, 2011

Bangladesh bans mobile phone use by school teachers

Photo: Getty Images/Shakira sits with children at a Bangladesh primary school


SALEEM SAMAD

BANGLADESH AUTHORITIES imposed a ban on use of mobile phones use by school teachers in class rooms.

In one of the best practices, the disadvantaged children’s organized Child Parliament in a study in 2010 found that 75 percent of the school teachers speak on the phone, suspending lessons of their students. Similarly a year before it was one percent less.

Nurul Islam Nahid, education minister announced on Sunday at the 8th Child Parliament session held in the capital Dhaka.

Child Parliament organized by Save the Children Australia, Manusher Jonno Foundation and Plan International, is a platform where disadvantaged children discuss their rights and advocacy with policy makers and voice their agenda.

Nahid lamented that his earlier warning was ignored, but said he would issue a rule which would become an official guideline. He believes that the new rule would act as deterrent for the disobedient teachers.

He warned that the teachers would be punished for negligence of duties to impart lessons in schools. [ENDS]

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and politics. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Sunday, April 10, 2011

NASA to study vulnerability of largest mangrove forest in Bangladesh

SALEEM SAMAD

IN THE wake of climate change, acclaimed space science agency the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) has decided to fund a study on the changes of the mangrove forests and its overall effect on the entire ecosystem.

NASA awarded $637,000 to a Bangladesh-born scientist Faiz Rahman, a professor of Indiana University in Bloomington to conduct a study on the vulnerability of the Sundarbans, recurrently lashed by cyclones and tidal surges.

Rahman, presently living in Indiana State discussed his plan while talking to private wire service banglanews.com and said the project is scheduled to begin from August 2011.

The Bangladeshi scientist has been designated as principal investigator of the project. Three other investigators are – Dr. Rinku Roy Chowdhury, an assistant professor of geography Department of Indiana University, and Dr. Boone Kauffman and Dr. Daniel Donato of the US Forest Service.

Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest which is shared by two countries – Bangladesh and partially India is the home of 2,000 magnificent Bengal Tigers.

Recently Bangladesh has decided to use radio collars to track and monitor the ferocious Bengal Tigers, said Dr Mohammad Anwarul Islam, chief executive of Wildlife Trust of Bangladesh.

The investigating team of Rahman will study the largest mangrove forests over the next three years to identify the reasons behind the ongoing changes occurring in the forests, its capacity for carbon absorption and other factors contributing to bringing the change in the forests—its flora and fauna.

The program was undertaken as part of the U.S. government’s Carbon Cycle Science Program, a partnership of several governmental agencies, including the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, the Dept. of Energy, the Dept. of Agriculture and U.S Natural Science Foundation and NASA and others.

Explaining the importance of the Sundarbans to Bangladesh, Rahman said, “Some 6000 people died in cyclone ‘Aila’ in 2007. Another cyclone named ‘Nargis’ hit Myanmar the following year, leaving more than 100,000 people dead, and the damages from the cyclone were immense.”

“The Sundarbans is the single-largest block of mangrove forests in the world, covering nearly 10,000 square kilometers (3,861 sq miles) of the Bay of Bengal delta. The mangrove trees play a significant role in absorbing carbon from the atmosphere, but the extent of the carbon sink,” said Rahman.

Regarding the planned study, Rahman categorically said that the research would not only focus on collecting information about forest density and carbon stocks but also investigate the damage done by human beings in the forests and, consequently, socioeconomic impacts on the life of Bangladeshi people.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh plans to launch its own communications satellite within a year, Post and Telecommunications Minister Raziuddin Ahmed Raju disclosed to journalists on Sunday. The cost of the program will be between $150 million and $200 million.

The satellite would serve commercial purposes including improving telecom services, helping to meet the booming demand for it. In addition television broadcasting and meteorological data including disaster warnings would be available from the satellite. The satellite would also help mapping natural resources, and to predict weather to help farmers, an expert said.

Bangladesh’s neighbors India and Pakistan launched their own satellites in 1980 and 1990 respectively. [ENDS]

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and politics. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Friday, April 08, 2011

After repatriation from troubled Libya, rehabilitation remains a major challenge

SALEEM SAMAD

Bangladesh with assistance from international organizations has been able to repatriate overwhelming majority of migrant workers from strife torn Libya. The biggest challenge up front is rehabilitation, reintegration into the society.

The International Organization of Migration (IOM), with the support of United Nations refugee agency UNHCR and Bangladesh government, more than 30 thousand Bangladeshis living and working in Libya have returned to Bangladesh.

In one month starting from 01 March, IOM assisted the return of 28,329 Bangladeshis in 92 IOM chartered flights and 11 Bangladesh Biman flights while approximately 3,433 came back self-arranged or arranged by their employers, an IOM statement issued on Thursday from Bangladesh office stated.

The UN Secretary General Mr. Ban Ki-moon had said recently that with such swift, efficient and large evacuation of third country nationals, a major humanitarian disaster have been averted so far.

“About 200 Bangladeshis remain at the different borders with Libya today, with an average of 120 new arrivals every day. An estimated 30,000 Bangladeshis still remain inside Libya. If land travel situation improve, it is likely that another surge of thousands of Bangladeshis may flee to the borders, needing evacuation. The government and IOM would urgently need to be prepared for that’, said Rabab Fatima, Regional Representative of IOM in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, the government fears that foreign remittance inflow is likely to fall, which is more than seven million immigrants and migrants contribute nearly 10 billion in the national economy. Foreign remittance by migrant workers and immigrants is the highest single foreign currency income.

However, the political crisis in Libya, Yemen, Syria, Tunisia and Egypt in the Gulf region will further cause insecurity, fear and instability which will result in further abandoning their place of duty due to negative economic scenario, said Dr. Tasneem Siddique, president of Refugee and Migratory Movement Research Unit.

Bangladesh authority has launched diplomatic maneuvers to persuade Japan, Saudi Arabia and other countries to offer jobs to skilled workers returning from Libya and other troubled Gulf states. Japan is engaged in massive rehabilitation program after Tsunami coupled with severe earthquake last month completely damaged most of the northern region and needs thousands of construction workers.

“The crisis is far from over. More than ever, we appeal to donors to maintain stamina. We are in this for the long haul and we have to collectively ensure that the plight of those fleeing the violence in Libya is not prolonged due to a lack of funds,” states IOM Director General William Lacy Swing. [ENDS]

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and politics. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Bitter battle of microcredit celebrity likely to strain US-Bangladesh ties

SALEEM SAMAD
A SENIOR United States official once again warned that its bitter battle between Muhammad Yunus and the Bangladesh authority could dent diplomatic ties between two countries.

US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert O Blake warned that failure to find a compromise that respects Dr Yunus’ global stature and maintains the integrity and effectiveness of Grameen Bank “could affect our bilateral relations.”

The apex court on Monday confirmed the High Court ruling that backed the sacking of the Nobel Peace laureate from Grameen Bank as its managing director.

Nobel laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus unceremonious exit from the bank he founded for having no legal authority to act as the micro-lender's managing director, since its board had not obtained the Bangladesh Bank's sanction to re-appoint him beyond the bank's official retirement age of 60.

A day later Blake made the remark on Tuesday in his testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington, reports private wire service United News of Bangladesh.

The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is a close friend of Yunus, who has won the two highest civilian honors of the US — American Presidential Medal of Freedom and Congressional Gold Medal.

Last month in Dhaka, Blake issued a thinly-veiled threat that if a compromise was not reached at on the Yunus issue, the US-Bangladesh relationship would get 'impacted', writes news agency bdnews24.com.

“Dr. James Wolfensohn and I pressed the government of Bangladesh to protect the integrity of civil society and the autonomy of the Grameen Bank, and I warned that a failure to find a compromise that respects Dr. Yunus’ global stature and maintains the integrity and effectiveness of Grameen could affect our bilateral relations,” Blake told the Congressional Committee.

Finance Minister AMA Muhith last month said the government would be open to some compromise – such as to allow Yunus to remain an emeritus fellow at Grameen – but not, however, to his proposal that he should step aside as managing director and be made chairman instead.

As a democratic and moderate Sunni Muslim majority nation of 165 million people, the US State Department official said Bangladesh is a country with which the United States has a vested interest in maintaining close relations.

Blake said Bangladesh is a secular democracy, with a history of religious and ethnic tolerance. It also can be proud of its vibrant and innovative civil society, which has produced such outstanding global citizens as microcredit celebrity Muhammad Yunus, who’s Grameen Bank, was a pioneer of the concept of “microcredit” - providing small loans to tens of millions of Bangladeshis, especially women, who possess little or no collateral.

Despite success in economic growth and outmatched US trade with Bangladesh in recent years, but he said country still remains among the poorest countries in Asia. [ENDS]

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and politics. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Monday, April 04, 2011

Mullahs in Bangladesh clashed with police protesting gender equality of women

Photo: Nashirul Islam/ bdnews24.com/ Activists of Islamic Law Implementation Committee block Dhaka-Chittagong highway at Signboard area of Narayanganj on Monday during the countrywide general strike

SALEEM SAMAD

ISLAMIC BIGOTS along with students of Koranic schools in Bangladesh clashed with riot police on Monday while enforcing country-wide shut down protesting government’s decision of gender equality of women, which zealots interpret as anti-Islamic.

Police said the day-long shut down turned violent when the Islamists and students sporting Koran and shroud, were armed with welding sticks, rocks and home-made bombs clashed with riot police in many towns and cities of Bangladesh.

The clashes with law enforcers left nearly 250 injured and another 500 activists detained.

Striking Islamic bigots supported by Islamist students went on a rampage and vandalized more than a hundred buses carrying hundreds of Muslim devotees in Chittagong and Khulna cities, blocked highway’s main artery between the capital Dhaka with the eastern region for several hours.

Even the lawmakers came under attack. The activists stormed the vehicles carrying them separately in two towns, east of the capital. Lawmakers Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir and RMA Obaidul Muktadir Chowdhury, however, escaped unhurt.

Ruling Awami League general secretary and Minister Syed Ashraful Islam on Monday termed the strike enforced by an Islamic coalition as ‘politically’ motivated. The ruling-party leader instead blamed opposition alliance for instigating the Islamist.

Minister for Religious Affairs Mohammad Shahjahan on the eve of the nation-wide strike by Muslim zealots termed Bangladesh as a secular country where people have been enjoying equal rights irrespective of their caste, creed and religion. He challenged the Islamist leaders into a debate to prove that the policy contradicts to the principles of Koran.

Further he said the women development policy envisages equal opportunities for women and their share in property, employment and trading for all religion including Hindu, Christian, and Buddhist.

Islamist parties including Jamaat-e-Islami have long been protesting the policy which mentions gender equality.

Slamming the government for arresting anti-women policy supporters, Mufti Fazlul Haque Amini, chairman of a faction of Islamic Oikkya Jote (United Islamic Alliance) on Monday warned of a tougher anti-government agitation unless the arrestees are freed within 24 hours deadline.

Amini, leader of Islamic Law Implementation Committee which called for the country-wide shut down told journalist that the “strike was a perfect reply against the government’s anti-Islamic policy like High Court banning of Fatwa (Islamic edict), National Education Policy, and National Women Development Policy 2011,” he said.

Police detectives raided a Koranic school in Brahmanbaria, founded by striking leader Amini, and recovered five home-made bombs and detained eight students.

Earlier on eve of the shut down, the Muslim chauvinist Amini, also major partner of the opposition alliance threatened non-stop shut down if the government resisted the strike, called to protest the proposed National Women Development Policy 2011, which recommends for gender equality and equal share by women in parental properties.

The Islamist leader also announced countrywide agitation programme which begins from Apr 5 until May 27.

He cautioned that nobody will remain in state power of this country after taking position against Koran and Sharia. Responding to a query regarding ongoing hearing on the banning of Fatwa in the apex court, he said: “The whole country will be on fire if the court verdict goes against Fatwa.”

Leader of the opposition Begum Khaleda Zia who returned from a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia on the eve of the strike called by her alliance partner United Islamic Alliance, cautioned the government not do anything that might hurt the religious sentiment of the people and create chaos. It needs time and it would not be wise to do something by applying force, she observed.

Khaleda Zia who was twice prime minister of the country is apprehensive that any move hurting religious sentiments may lead to anarchy in the country. She, however, lauded that Bangladesh has made significant progress in women's development. [ENDS]

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and politics. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

Friday, April 01, 2011

Bangladesh probe into “Tiger” in world cup debacle

Photo: Bangladesh's captain Shakib Al Hasan bowls during their fifth one-day international cricket match in Dhaka
SALEEM SAMAD

THE GOVERNMENT will look into causes behind humiliating defeats to take necessary measures to overcome the weaknesses

Millions of “Tiger” fans are excited that official investigation has been launched into the Bangladesh cricket team's failures at the World Cup cricket on Friday.

The Bangladeshi team dubbed as “Tiger” came in for strong criticism after they were bundled out for just 58 runs by the West Indies. Later, South Africa bowled them out for just 78. It meant they narrowly missed out on a spot in the quarter-finals.

“A probe team will be formed to find the cause of our players’ failure,” Bangladesh state minister for sports, Ahad Ali Sarkar told scribes.

"We are trying to find the causes behind these humiliating defeats. We shall take necessary measures to overcome these weaknesses," Sarkar said.


"We will certainly investigate into the reasons behind the debacle. We also want to see the Bangladesh Cricket Board to be more transparent and accountable," Sarkar said.

However, a Bangladeshi Cricket Board official does not agree with the sport minister’s decision for a probe. Manzur Ahmed, chief executive officer of the Bangladesh Cricket Board argued that “success and failures are part of any sport.”

The “Tigers” defeat by West Indies sparked angry reactions among fans who stoned a bus carrying the West Indies team presuming to be Bangladesh cricket team. Security had been beefed up to ensure adequate safety of the visiting cricket teams shuttling from hotels to stadium.


The team managed to beat England but was trounced by the West Indies and also lost to South Africa and India in their first round matches.

Bangladesh is one of the co-hosts of the 2011 Cricket World Cup and hosted eight matches. The other hosts, India and Sri Lanka incidentally will play final in Mumbai, India on (tomorrow) Sunday.

The resource starved nation of 158 million had to divert other development budgets for setting priority on security for 14 participating World Cup Cricket teams arriving capital Dhaka.


Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina on March 2 told parliament that her government allocated USD 65.6 million (USD 1=BDT 72.60) for the mega Cricket World Cup event.

The financial resource starved nation had to divert USD 7 million shortfalls from other development budgets for priority on full-proof security for the Cricket World Cup, an official of the Sports Ministry said. [ENDS]

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and politics. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com