Clinton in Dhaka to Strengthen US, Bangladesh Ties

Posted May 5th, 2012 at 10:20 am (UTC-5)
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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Bangladesh for talks expected to push ties between Washington and Dhaka to a new level.

Clinton arrived in Dhaka Saturday, the latest stop on her South Asian tour. She's expected to meet later Saturday with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as well as opposition leader, Begum Khaleda Zia.

Both U.S. and Bangladeshi officials say the talks are expected to focus on expanding strategic and economic ties. Bangladeshi officials have said they want to encourage more investment from the United States and would like to gain greater access to U.S. markets.

On Friday, Prime Minister Hasina's international affairs advisor told reporters the visit was significant. Gowher Rizvi said, “Bangladesh and U.S. are not often recognized, but have a widely shared outlook and community of interests.''

Despite those interests, the U.S. Secretary of State is likely to push Dhaka for an end to the violence and a political crackdown that has been threatening to send Bangladesh into political turmoil.

The atmosphere in Bangladesh has grown increasingly tense in recent weeks as the country was beset with general strikes led by opposition parties that said many of their leaders had disappeared. The government responded with a further crackdown on dissent.

Clinton is also set to meet with Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunnus, whose removal from the pioneering micro-lender Grameen Bank has been criticized by Washington.

Secretary of State Clinton's arrival in Dhaka follows several days of meetings with Chinese officials, many centering on the fate of blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng.

Clinton left China having secured an agreement that would allow Chen to apply to study abroad. The deal is seen as a breakthrough in the diplomatic dispute that began when Chen escaped house arrest and fled to the U.S. embassy.

American officials confirmed reports that Chen has received a letter from a U.S. university offering him a fellowship. One of his friends said the school is New York University, and that the blind activist hopes to travel to the U.S. for a while before returning to China.

But Chen's wife, Yuan Weijing, told a reporter in a phone interview Saturday that there is still no timeframe for when Chen may be able to leave. She said it was because Chen is still in the hospital for medical treatment, and that none of the required paperwork had been started.

Some human rights activists say the U.S. should be skeptical about the Chinese government's assurances regarding the safety of Chen.

Chen is a self-taught lawyer and human rights activist who has been blind since childhood. He was given a four-year prison sentence in 2006 for exposing abuses under China's forced abortion policy aimed at population control. He had been under house arrest since 2010, before escaping on April 22.