Thursday, June 30, 2011

Thousands protest in Bangladesh against Islamic constitution

Photo Saleem Samad: Thousand demonstrates in Bangladesh capital on Thursday against adoption by parliament an Islamic constitution

SALEEM SAMAD

THOUSANDS OF protesters marched in capital Dhaka on Thursday against Bangladesh parliament adopted an Islamic constitution, steering away from a secular political culture, which was enshrined in 1972 constitution.

A half a mile long rally organized by a conglomerate of left parties and pro-secular groups, chanting anti-government slogans and waving red flags marched towards the parliament, where the ruling party and her alliance lawmakers hastily adopted several amendments to the constitution on Thursday noon.

Hundreds of riot police in flak jackets, armed with shot guns and tear gas shells blocked the marchers putting up barbed-wire fences. The protesters in summer heat and intermittent rain stopped at exit of the Dhaka University, where leaders in makeshift dais addressed the crowd and bitterly criticized the government for switching to an Islamic constitution.

In a massive constitutional reform, the non-partisan interim government has been deleted, which was practiced for 15 years to hold credible elections and ensure smooth transition to an incumbent political government. The opposition fears that the ruling party will rig the election, despite denial by the prime minister.

A set of 55 amendment proposals were incorporated in the constitution amendment bill by 289-1 division vote.

Main opposition described the abrogation of neutral caretaker government from the democratic constitution will be written in the history as a “black day”. Opposition leader and former prime minister Khaleda Zia threatened series of street protests and political agitations to undo the constitution reforms.

Prime minister Shiekh Hasina warned the opposition not to create anarchy and instead olive branches to hold parleys with the government and suggest how to hold a credible election scheduled in 2014 and also reduce military interference in state polity.

The prime minister was highly critical of the last military-backed caretaker government (2006-8), which sent the present prime minister and opposition leader to prison for corruption.

The independence war veterans, secularist and left leaning parties have came down heavily on the government for converting a secular political culture to an Islamic one.

Several lawmakers mostly from the left leaning parties have voted against the proposed amendment of the constitution, which has included Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim (in the name of Allah, most gracious, most merciful), a verse from Koran in the preamble and Islam as state religion.

The ethnic minority leader Mangal Kumar Chakma in a statement protested the new constitution, which has termed the indigenous peoples as “tribals, small nationalities, ethnic groups and communities.”

What angered the indigenous peoples when the discovered that they have been bracketed as “Bangalee”, who are majoritarian Sunni Muslims. The indigenous communities divided in several sub-groups have different languages and are mostly Buddhist, Hindu and animist.

Bangladesh gained independence from Islamic Pakistan after a bloody war on the principle to establish a secular and democratic nation.

Former Justice Golam Rabbany lamented at a seminar on Thursday that from now the nation has lost its secular identity, which was gained after decades of struggle. The sacrifices of thousands of martyrs during the independence war forty years ago have been insulted, he decried.

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

Friday, June 24, 2011

Bangladesh ethnic communities protest Islamization of constitution

SALEEM SAMAD

THE BANGLADESH government’s dramatic turn around from secularism to Islamism has enraged the indigenous population, who are demanding to be recognized in a proposed re-draft of the country's constitution.

The nation is poised to amend the constitution, which is likely to be tabled in the parliament on Thursday. The move has been vehemently protested by independence war veterans, the pro-secularist lobby and social justice activists. Dissent is also being heard from within the ruling party and its pro-left alliance partners.

The superior court, in a landmark judgment last July, asked the government to restore secularism in the spirit of the bloody war of independence of 1971. Secular activists charge the government has deliberately adopted dilly-dally tactics while the charter changes are considered.

Former guerrilla leader Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma a.k.a. Shantu Larma, chairman of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council, on Thursday rejected the proposed Islamization of the constitution and demanded constitutional recognition of the indigenous or Adivasi community, who have resided in the country for centuries.

The guerrilla leader, who fought a bush war for two decades, demanded the government drop a proposal to keep a Koranic verse in the preamble of the constitution -- "Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim (in the name of Allah, most gracious, most merciful)" and Islam as the state religion.

"A state can't have a religion," said Larma, who signed the historic peace accord between guerillas and the government 13 years ago. The treaty recognizes the inhabitants of hill forest as indigenous communities, acknowledges its traditional governance system and established regional autonomy. However, the constitution does not acknowledge them as Adivasis.

The matter of recognition of the indigenous people came to the fore recently following denial by a Bangladesh diplomat in the United Nations that there were no indigenous people in the country.

The statement has been construed as another step by the government to further erode the already limited rights of indigenous people.

Since Bangladesh gained independence four decades ago, the 35 ethnic groups that represent nearly 2 percent of the total 158 million majoritarian Sunni Muslims have demanded to be recognized as indigenous communities.

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, June 23, 2011

Despite rise of food price in Bangladesh, poverty has reduced slightly

Photo: Julian Francis/Millions of rural poor were empowered, mostly women folks
SALEEM SAMAD

THE POOR communities in Bangladesh described their eating habits have changed and forgotten the taste of red meat or even lentils. The kitchens, traditionally dominated by women have pieces of chicken and fish species which they never have previously considered to eat.

Despite rise of price of food in Bangladesh increased in first half of 2011, the poverty has surprisingly reduced slightly, a Oxfam survey claims.

The report “Living on a Spike: How is the 2011 Food Price Crisis Affecting Poor People?” said the price hike of 2011 is affecting the poorest most, but it has been generally adverse on the wider society.

While food inflation reached 10 percent, according to the study released on Wednesday, Bangladesh depends on the international market for additional food imports, and changes in global prices are expected to have a local impact.

Bangladesh, a nation of 158 million has reduced poverty levels and improved living standards significantly in recent years despite global economic meltdown and natural calamities, the report said.

The study was designed to explore how poor people experienced the food price hike of 2011 in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Kenya and Zambia. It follows on from research in the same communities in 2009 and 2010.

On the other side, the national poverty headcount rate declined in Bangladesh to 31.5 percent in 2010 from 40 percent in 2005, according to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistic and the World Bank jointly study launched on Wednesday.

The new survey report revealed that rural poverty declined to 35.2 percent in 2010 from 43.8 percent in 2005, while urban poverty has fallen to 21.3 percent from 28.5 percent in the same period.

Economist Wahid Uddin Mahmud said the poverty rate was 50 percent in 1990 and it came down to 45 percent in 2000 and 40 percent in 2005. The poverty rate has declined by eight percent in last five years, writes private United News of Bangladesh.

He said the poverty has been decreasing gradually in the country keeping pace with the increasing growth of per head national income.

The poorest and most vulnerable try to cope by working harder, eating less, living even more frugally, drawing down any resources and assets and managing on a day-to-day basis, the report said.

Small farmers do not always benefit from high food prices as is supposed, as many sell their outputs at low prices immediately after he harvest to repay loans taken for cultivation; many people believe instead that an increasing number of middlemen and large traders cream off the main profits from high rice prices.

However, the communities under study held the government responsible for failure to protect them against food price spikes.

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

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bangladesh dramatic shift from secularism to Islamic constitution

Photo: Secularist campaign for trail of war criminals
SALEEM SAMAD

BANGLADESH ON Monday night decided to make a radical shift from secularism to a pro-Islamic constitution. The move angered pro-democracy, secularist activists and also surprised the nation's moderate Muslim population.

An amendment of the constitution will be brought soon to retain Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim (in the name of Allah, most gracious, most merciful) in the preamble of the constitution, freewheel policy to religious biased politicking and Islam as state religion.

A meeting of the cabinet ministers chaired by Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina on Monday approved the amendments to the constitution. The constitutional reforms committee worked for months to recommend several revisions.

Meanwhile, the opposition led by former prime minister Khaleda Zia and Islamist alliance partners launched a countrywide agitation, including strikes protesting abrogation of non-partisan interim government to ensure free, fair, credible polls in the reformed constitution. They fear that the forthcoming general elections due in 2014 could be rigged based on proven track records of ruling party.

Two senior ministers AMA Muhith and AK Khandaker expressed their discontent during a cabinet meeting and protested the inclusion of “Islam as the state religion” of the republic in the reformed constitution. They argued that it will be in conflict with the constitution of 1972 ensuring the state should be secular with equal rights to all citizens practising other religions including Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity.

Commenting on the ministers’ argument, Hasina remarked, “The committee report has been prepared in this regard on the basis of reality as there have been many changes in the past 40 years.”

Secularists argue that state cannot belong to a faith, instead human beings may have a religion or practice a faith.

A year after the bloody war of independence from Islamic Pakistan in 1971, Bangladesh (formerly an eastern province of Pakistan) adopted a secular constitution. Despite being the fourth largest Sunni Muslim dominated population, the country banned political activities of Islamic parties.

The 1972 secular constitution guaranteed religious freedom and respect of all faiths was installed by independence leader Shiekh Mujibur Rahman, the father of present prime minister Hasina. Subsequently the military juntas ruled the country for 15 years doctored the constitution, encouraging Islamization of Bangladesh.

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, June 20, 2011

Gas deal with American energy giant sparks protest in Bangladesh

Photo: Ashraful Alom Tito/UNBconnect: Activists protest against gas exploration deal
SALEEM SAMAD

A CRUCIAL pact between the Bangladesh government and U.S. energy giant ConocoPhillips for deep sea gas exploration has sparked a dispute in the country as activists and allies announced a strike to protest the deal.

The radical activist group the National Committee on Protection of Oil, Gas and Mineral Resources, Power and Ports, with allies of the left-leaning parties, has dubbed the deal as controversial and against the national interest.

Professor Anu Mohammad, general secretary of the national committee, announced on Sunday a country-wide agitation and a six-hour shut down in the capital Dhaka on July 3 and demanded cancelation of the deal.

A professor of economics, Mohammad told reporters that his organization called a country wide shut-down because the agreement with ConocoPhillips endangered Bangladesh's ownership of maritime resources.

Mohammad claimed the provisions of the deal allowed Bangladesh to have only 20 per cent share of the explored hydrocarbon and eventually pave the way for the U.S. company "having a very poor track record" to export the gas abroad despite the energy-starved country.

The strike call came as the main opposition, Bangladesh Nationalist Party, demanded publication of the full text of the agreement so the deal could be studied.

The government, ignoring dissent within the ruling party alliance and protests by experts, on Thursday inked the production-sharing contract (PSC) for gas exploration in the Bay of Bengal despite an ownership dispute over the territory with neighboring India and Myanmar.

ConocoPhillips was chosen to conduct seismic surveys in blocks 10 and 11, an area of nearly 2,000 square miles.

According to the PSC, ConocoPhillips will get 80 to 85 percent of the lifted gas at the cost-recovery stage. The Texas-based company will ensure a bank guarantee of $160 million in the nine-year deal, with a condition to operate surveys and exploration.

The gas, converted into Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), could be exported if state-owned hydrocarbon corporation Petrobangla is unable to purchase the fuel through laying 174 miles (280 kms) of pipeline away from Chittagong port, the country's energy distribution hub.

Bangladesh will have to lay pipe nearly a mile under the sea in an area regularly visited by tidal surge. Experts argue that laying the pipe, coupled with maintenance costs, will be very expensive for a poor country.

Meanwhile, the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a business body urged activists to call off the strike. The business leaders reiterated its previous stand on shutdowns, saying such political action aggravates the country's economy, especially the industrialization process for shortages of gas and energy.

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, June 17, 2011

Despite protests, Bangladesh inks contract with U.S. energy giant for offshore hydrocarbon exploration

SALEEM SAMAD

THE GOVERNMENT of Bangladesh, an energy starved country, inked a contract on Thursday with a U.S. energy giant for offshore oil and gas exploration.

Ignoring protests, state-owned PetroBangla signed a production-sharing contract (PSC) with Conoco Phillips, an U.S. corporation for exploration of oil and gas in two deep-sea gas blocks.

Vice-president William Lafferrandre said his corporation, Conoco Phillips, will immediately begin exploration within Bangladesh’s maritime boundary. The agreement is for nine years.

Conoco Phillips is the world’s fifth-largest private sector energy corporation and is one of the six "super major" vertically integrated oil companies.

Controversy has raged with Burma and India over territorial ocean boundaries. The Burmese military junta has sent warships to threaten Bangladesh not to attempt to explore for energy resources within disputed territory in the Bay of Bengal.

Conoco Phillips is barred from exploring nearly half of the two blocks, said a PetroBangla official.

Bangladesh is awaiting judgment from the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to settle the claims over the disputed waters.

The country currently produces around 2,000 million cubic feet (mmcft) of gas per day against a demand of more than 2,500 mmcft. The proven gas reserves are 7.3 trillion cubic feet (tcf) and probable reserves 5.5 tcf.

A citizen’s network called the Committee to Protect Oil-Gas and Mineral Resources, with allies drawn from leftist parties, workers, environmentalists and professionals staged a demonstration and clashed with riot police on Tuesday protesting that the contract would hamper national interests.

Prof Anu Mohammad, leader of the citizen’s network argue that the deal with Texas based corporation would lose ownership of the blocks once the contract was signed, which is nearly 150 miles away from the coast. It which would be suicidal for the nation, observed the economic professor of a state university.

Senior government officials, however, said that Conoco Phillips will not be allowed to export gas unless the country refuses to buy its gas under the contract.

Professional and academics claim the U.S. corporation will have the authority to export 80 percent of the gas, and PetroBangla will acquire the rest, which will have to be carried to the shore at its own cost, a costly proposition for Bangladesh.

PetroBangla chairman Hossain Mansur explained to website bdnews24.com on Wednesday that there is nothing against the country's interests in the contract.

The controversy further deepened after whistleblower site Wikileaks revealed that U.S. Ambassador John F. Moriarty in 2010 pressured the Bangladesh prime minister's energy advisor to award the contracts to Conoco Phillips, Halliburton and another American company.

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

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bangladesh police block energy activists demo against U.S firm

SALEEM SAMAD

RIOT POLICE armed with shot guns, tear gas shells and wearing flak jackets foiled a protest march organized by energy activists on Tuesday against government’s plan to sign offshore contracts with an U.S. energy giant.

At least 20 activists of the Committee to Protect Oil-Gas and Mineral Resources were injured when riot police clubbed protesters with batons.

Despite the violent protest, the state-owned hydrocarbon corporation PetroBangla is set to ink on Thursday a deal with ConocoPhillips, an international company to award two deep sea oil-gas exploration blocks in the Bay of Bengal, intermittently visited by tidal surge and cyclones.

Critiquing the government the protesters were joined by socialist political parties and workers organizations sporting red flags, placards and banners demanded transparency and access to information of the deal.

Lawmaker Rashed Khan Menon, leader of Workers Party urged the government in the parliament on Monday not to sign the deal, and to discuss the issue in parliament.

Professor Anu Mohammad, leader of the energy activists group addressing the gathering said the proposed deal would be suicidal for the country.

It is contradictory that the government plans to import Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) and on the other, it is allowing gas export through U.S. energy giants, says Mohammad also an university economics teacher.

According to the committee, the deal would go against the national interest since the Houston, Texas based company will be allowed to retain 80 percent of the gas from the blocks.

The energy activists argue that transporting the remaining 20 percent gas to the shore from the deep sea would not be economically viable.

The deal demands that the US firm will have to lay pipeline from the blocks to shallow sea gas field Sangu, from where PetroBangla will draw gas. The contractor will be allowed to have gas for the cost of pipeline as cost-recovery.

ConocoPhillips won these blocks in 2008, but could not sign the contract with state-run PetroBangla as these blocks were also claimed by India and Myanmar.

The agreement prohibits the American company from exploring the areas of the blocks claimed by Myanmar or India. ConocoPhillips will invest about $111 million and has offered a bank guarantee of the same amount for the two blocks.

Bangladesh has been experiencing severe gas crunch, which prompted the government to shelve production in a number of fertilizer factories, suspend operation of compressed natural gas (CNG) stations refueling vehicles. The government also introduced rationing of gas supply to industries.

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, June 13, 2011

Opposition strike paralyze Bangladesh

SALEEM SAMAD

OPPOSITION AND allies have warned of fresh political action against the intimidation, harassment and arrest of 500 activists including scores of senior leaders.

Nearly a dozen commuter buses were torched and sporadic running battle with riot police armed with short guns and tear gas shells during the 36-hour countrywide shut down on Sunday and Monday, disrupting normal life and business.

The two-day marathon strike called by opposition Bangladesh Nationalists Party (BNP) and its ally Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami in a desperate bid to halt government’s move to scrap general elections under neutral caretaker government, when the superior court last month has declared such system as illegal. The opposition fears that the ruling party would rig the election scheduled to be held in 2013.

The government’s move to abolish the caretaker-government system through a radical constitutional amendment is underway, an official confirmed.

The authorities jailed at least 116 people on charges of rampaging and torching buses and disrupting public life, police said. Police has released most of the senior leaders, especially parliament members after nightfall on Monday.

Protesting the arrests, opposition Chief Whip Jainul Abedin Farooque said the authority requires to seek permission from the speaker of the parliament, if they need to arrest any parliamentarian while the parliament is on session. But, police failed to confirm that they took permission from the speaker about the arrest.

For the first time in 40 years, mobile courts manned by magistrates sentenced more than a 100 people, most of them opposition activists, to jail terms ranging from one month to three months in summary trials on the during the strike.

The BNP leader sternly condemned the ruling Awami League for what they said taking recourse to illegal means, for meting out repression to political opponents

Opposition secretary-general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said on Monday that they remained besieged in their central office in capital Dhaka for a second day.

Meanwhile rights groups came down heavily on the government and expressed their concern over human rights abuses and indiscriminate arrest and punishment of pro-strike activists by mobile courts.

Rights group leader Sultana Kamal of Ain O Salish Kendra, Sultana Kamal argued that most people detained and punished were innocent. Another legal expert dubbed the judgment as extra-constitutional.

However, interior minister Sahara Khatoon echoed with the law enforcement agencies for summary trial of street hooliganism during political action.

The export industries body, traders association and business leaders have separately condemned the opposition call for countrywide strike, which seriously hampers production and economic losses.

Surprisingly, the stock indexes gained 228.44 points or 4.02 percent to 5904.73 as trading on the second day of the week closed amid a 36-hour shutdown.

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, June 10, 2011

Bangladesh unveils budget with high on defense, low on farm spending

Photo: Women garments workers demands rights
SALEEM SAMAD

Bangladesh, the world’s poorest Muslim majority country reveals a $22-billion deficit budget, which is high on defense expenditure and low in farm spending.

The overall agriculture budget decreased over 12 percent while that for defense increased almost 29 percent, which is incidentally the largest rise among all major sectors.

Instead of investing in human development and infrastructure, the nation of 158 million, most of that money will likely go towards increasing Bangladesh's military firepower and salaries of defense personnel.

Finance minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith calls for higher allocation in the energy and farming sectors to perk up economic growth.

The government targets revenue income at $16.01 billion in the coming fiscal year, from nearly $13 billion in the current fiscal year.

In a move to end a serious of power outage, the power production saw an increase of almost 20 percent as the finance minister outlined a plan to increase power generation by almost three times adding 7,800 megawatts to the national grid by 2013, write news portal bdnews24.

The minister set a 7.0 percent growth target for the gross domestic product (GDP) starting on July 1.

The budget holds down the rising inflation, principally blamed on price spirals and depreciation of the local currency, he explained.

Economic think-tank Unnayan Onneshan in a quick assessment on Thursday said the government might face extraordinary challenge to reach the growth target as quoted in the budget document of fiscal 20111-12 due to lack of supporting base in the overall economy of Bangladesh.

The budget was placed in the parliament on Thursday amidst boycott of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalists Party.

The fiscal space squeeze and IMF condition for accessing one billion dollar loan to Bangladesh might also pave the way for increasing different type of inequality; such as geographical inequality, income inequality and social inequality in the country, the think-tank said.

Finance Minister almost echoed with the think-tank and said that the next fiscal year would be challenging for the economy. "Recovery from the recession and political instability pose a great risk for the economy and we're going to form a taskforce to deal with it," he told journalist on Friday.

He does not hesitate to blame that the economy has fallen into trouble after recovery from recession due to commodity crisis and in Bangladesh political stability rubs salt to the injuries.

The anti-tobacco lobby expressed mixed reaction, when the government increased tax to 42.5 percent to discourage smoking. The activists were expecting strict economic restrictions of the tobacco growers.

Bank stocks went up Wednesday and Thursday riding largely on report that corporate tax will go down to 40 per cent for commercial banks.

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

United States urged to resolve Burmese refugees in Bangladesh

SALEEM SAMAD

BANGLADESH FORMALLY requested United States to exert diplomatic pressure on Burma to repatriate thousands of ethnic Muslim Rohingya languishing in refugee camps in the country for decades, a breeding ground of Islamic extremism and human trafficking.

Food and disaster management minister Abdur Razzaque briefed journalists on Thursday after a holding crucial meeting in the capital Dhaka with the visiting U.S. assistant secretary of state for population, refugee and migration Eric Schwartz.

Dhaka requests Washington to open consultation with Burma (now Myanmar) for the repatriation of some 300,000 documented and undocumented Rohingya refugees living in untold miseries.

The Burmese Muslims are housed in three camps near Cox’s Bazaar, the sea beach resort bordering Burma in the south-east. The camps are run by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees with support from international aid agencies.

Schwartz categorically told Bangladesh authority that the solution to the repartition of Rohingya refugees lies primarily with Bangladesh to encourage Burma for voluntary repartition of the refugees.

Bangladesh minister instead insists that U.S. should exert pressure on Burmese military junta for the repartition of the refugee. “We are already socially and economically burdened after hosting these refugees on humanitarian ground for so many years,” Razzaque told reporters.

The visiting U.S. assistant secretary of state requested Bangladesh authorities to register the undocumented refugees since the stateless people have been living in an inhuman condition too.

He said that the refugees living here is a political headache for the region, as well as for United States in the war against terrorism. The undocumented Rohingya refugee’s is a breeding ground for recruits for the Islamic terror network.

He assured that unless there is a change of military junta towards a political solution in Burma, the United States will continue to support Bangladesh for sheltering the Rohingya refugees.

Schwartz expressed concern over scanty food ration, inadequate shelter and poor healthcare facilities for the refugees who started entering Bangladesh since 1991 when Burma military junta drove away the ethnic Muslims from the southern Rakhaine state of Burma.

Recognizing the issue as a humanitarian disaster, Schwartz said the regime in Burma systematically denies human rights and human freedom of the Rohingya and also of pro-democracy Burmese.

An estimated 236,000 out of over 250,000 Rohingya refugees have returned to Burma in early 1990s, but persistent political persecution in their country have forced them again to take shelter in neighboring Bangladesh.

The process for refugee repatriation was halted for years because of the reluctance of military authority in Myanmar.

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, June 01, 2011

Bangladesh opposition calls shutdown, demands to keep caretaker system

SALEEM SAMAD

THE OPPOSITION called for countrywide dawn to dusk strike on Sunday to protest the government’s decision to discard the non-partisan interim government system to oversee the general election.

The world’s only country, Bangladesh, where the caretaker government system is embodied in the state constitution to ensure a free, fair, neutral and acceptable general election in 90 days.

Mainstream opposition Bangladesh Nationalists Party’s acting secretary-general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir announced the shutdown at a press conference on Wednesday. Rejecting the government’s decision, the fiery leader declared the strike schedule to undo the decision, writes wire service United News of Bangladesh.

The opposition threatened the government not to participate in upcoming general elections, scheduled in end 2013, if the provision was scrapped.

It is the fifth general strike since the current Awami League-led government came to power early Jan. 2009.

He said only four weeks ago the prime minister herself spoke in favor of caretaker government during her meeting with the parliamentary special committee to study constitutional amendment.

The supreme court on May 10 repealed the 13th Amendment to the constitution that introduced the controversial caretaker government in 1996. The government argues that there is no room for the neutral government to hold the election, while the section should be deleted immediately.

Opposition fears that the government would manipulate administrative power, which would thwart a free, fair and acceptable election.

In 1996, Shiekh Hasina led Awami League and her alliance launched week-long bloody political riot, which forced the government to accept the concept of caretaker government.

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