Next national polls will be free and fair: PM Hasina tells US official
PM-Chollet, LdNext national polls will be free and fair: PM Hasina tells US official Eds: Updates with details Dhaka, Feb 15 (UNB) – Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Wednesday said the next parliamentary election will be fair and free as she is committed to democracy and the Election Commission is completely independent. “The next election will be fair and free. I fought for democracy throughout my life,” she said. Read More: Clashes, obstruction by ruling party mark BNP’s nationwide march programme The premier said this when a US delegation, led by Counselor of the US Department of State Derek Chollet, paid a courtesy call on her at the latter’s official residence Ganabhaban. PM’s Speechwriter Md Nazrul Islam briefed reporters after the meeting. Hasina said if the people vote for Awami League in the next general election, her party will take the charge of governing the country. “I never want to come to power through vote-rigging,” she was quoted as saying. Read More: Govt is preparing to hold a free, fair election: PM The PM said she always struggled for the people’s rights to food and vote. She said the first-ever EC’s reconstitution law was passed in parliament and then a neutral Election Commission was constituted on the basis of the law. She said the EC is completely independent. It has administrative and financial independence, she added. Bangladesh is due to elect its next parliament by end of this year or first week of January next year. Read More: Next general election to be held first week of 2024: PM Hasina announces at Cox’s Bazar rally The last parliamentary election was held on December 30, 2018. The prime minister said no political parties in the country other than Awami League have bases at the grassroots level. Opposition BNP and Jatiya Party were born in the cantonments, she noted. She said AL has been in power only for 19 years in the 51-year history of the country’s independence. The anti-Awami League forces were in power for 29 years and there was no democratic polity during their regimes. Focusing on the development of Bangladesh in different socio-economic indexes, she said the transformation of the country has become visible in the last 14 years during her government. It has been possible due to the continued democratic practice and stability in the country, she added. Read More: EC to purchase 700mt paper from Karnaphuli Mills ahead of national election Nazrul said the Russia-Ukraine war and Rohingya issues also came up for the discussion in the meeting. PM Hasina tells the US delegation that the world should stop this war right now as it has caused high inflation and commodity prices throughout the globe. “A war never can bring any benefit for the human kind,” she said. Noting that the USA is the most powerful country, she said it can stop the war anytime. The disputes can be settled through negotiation, she said. Read more: ‘Bir Nibash’: PM gives away keys to 5000 houses for disadvantaged freedom fighters About Rohingyas, the PM said the displaced Myanmar nationals have become a big burden for Bangladesh. The local communities in Cox’s Bazar are suffering and they have become minority due to the influx of such a huge number of Myanmar nationals there. She said the Rohingya peoples are being involved in different criminal activities like drug trafficking, human trafficking, militancy and infightings. The premier said the displaced Myanmar nationals have been staying in Cox’s Bazar for five years and now it is difficult to keep them there as its natural environment and the livelihood of locals are at stake. She said her government arranged different facilities, including income generating programmes, to ensure better life of the Rohingya people on Bhashanchar island. Read More: EVMs to be used partially again in next JS election: EC She asked the world community to provide their assistance to Rohingya people on Bhashanchar. Bangladesh is hosting over 1.1 million Rohingyas in Cox's Bazar and Bhasanchar, she said PM Hasina also asked the international community to try their best for speedy and amicable repatriation of the Rohingya refugees. to Myanmar, their homeland. Derek Chollet thanked the prime minister for giving shelter to the Rohingya people on humanitarian ground. Read More: CEC estimates 15 to 20 percent by-poll voter turnout in 6 JS seats left vacant by BNP He said they would try their best for the repatriation of the displaced people. However, the Counselor to the Secretary of State of the United States said the repatriation will be possible when a democratic government returns to power in Myanmar. He said some recent high-level visits of US officials are reflection of the importance of the bilateral relations between the two countries. This relation will grow further, Chollet added. He said there are potentials to deepen the bilateral relations, but there are some challenges here. Read More: EVM purchasing suspended, not cancelled: EC secretary Chollet arrived here on Tuesday for a 24-hour stay in Bangladesh. PM’s Private Industry and Investment Adviser Salman Fazlur Rahman, PM’s Principal Secretary M Tofazzel Hossain Miah, Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen and US Ambassador to Bangladesh Peter Haas were present.
US Official: Free, fair elections “must include a level playing field for all”
Free and fair elections in Bangladesh “must include a level playing field” for all participants, including political parties, said the US Embassy in Dhaka on Monday on conclusion of US Deputy Assistant Secretary Afreen Akhter’s two-day visit here. The US official and US Ambassador to Bangladesh Peter Haas met with representatives of Bangladesh's three major political parties – Bangladesh Awami League, Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jatiya Party. Before leaving Dhaka, Afreen Akhter had a breakfast meeting with Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen at a city hotel on Monday. “Absolutely, there is trust and respect for each other,” she said referring to her meeting with political leaders. Read more: Working closely with civil society for fair elections: Visiting US official She highlighted the cooperation between Bangladesh and the US in a whole range of areas including health, climate and economic cooperation. Talking to reporters, Foreign Secretary Masud said they talked about a number of issues and it was “not an election-centric” discussion. "Our USAID mission is working very closely with the civil society actors across Bangladesh to support their efforts to provide free and fair elections in Bangladesh,” Akhter told reporters at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Sunday. Read more: Govt to support Election Commission in holding fair election: Law Minister During her meeting with Secretary (Maritime Affairs Unit) Rear Admiral (Retd) Md Khurshed Alam, the US official discussed maritime security and how they can cooperate with Bangladesh and other forms of maritime cooperation in the region during the meeting. The Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) for Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and the Maldives, as well the Office of Security and Transnational Affairs most recently served as a Senior Adviser to SCA Assistant Secretary Don Lu. Previously, Akhter was the National Security and Foreign Affairs Adviser to U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen.
US official: Russia plans to annex parts of eastern Ukraine
A senior U.S. official warned that Russia plans to annex large portions of eastern Ukraine later this month, and the Mariupol steel mill that has become the city’s last stronghold of resistance came under renewed assault a day after the first evacuation of civilians from the plant. Michael Carpenter, U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said Monday that the U.S. believes the Kremlin also plans to recognize the southern city of Kherson as an independent republic. Neither move would be recognized by the United States or its allies, he said. Carpenter cited information that Russia is planning to hold sham referendums in the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics that would “try to add a veneer of democratic or electoral legitimacy” and attach the entities to Russia. He also said there were signs that Russia would engineer an independence vote in Kherson. He noted that mayors and local legislators there have been abducted, that internet and cellphone service has been severed and that a Russian school curriculum is soon to be imposed. Ukraine’s government has said Russia also has introduced the ruble as currency there. In bombed-out Mariupol, more than 100 people — including elderly women and mothers with small children — left the rubble-strewn Azovstal steelworks on Sunday and set out in buses and ambulances for the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia, about 140 miles (230 kilometers) to the northwest, according to authorities and video released by the two sides. Mariupol Deputy Mayor Sergei Orlov told the BBC that the evacuees were making slow progress. Authorities gave no explanation for the delay. At least some of the civilians were apparently taken to a village controlled by Russia-backed separatists. The Russian military said some chose to stay in separatist areas, while dozens left for Ukrainian-held territory. Also Read: Civilians rescued from Mariupol steel plant head for safety In the past, Ukraine has accused Moscow’s troops of taking civilians against their will to Russia or Russian-controlled areas. The Kremlin has denied it. The Russian bombardment of the sprawling plant by air, tank and ship picked up again after the partial evacuation, Ukraine’s Azov Battalion, which is helping to defend the mill, said on the Telegram messaging app. Orlov said high-level negotiations were underway among Ukraine, Russia and international organizations on evacuating more people. The steel-plant evacuation, if successful, would represent rare progress in easing the human cost of the almost 10-week war, which has caused particular suffering in Mariupol. Previous attempts to open safe corridors out of the southern port city and other places have broken down, with Ukrainian officials accusing Russian forces of shooting and shelling along agreed-on evacuation routes. Before the weekend evacuation, overseen by the United Nations and the Red Cross, about 1,000 civilians were believed to be in the plant along with an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian defenders. Russia has demanded that the fighters surrender; they have refused. As many as 100,000 people overall may still be in Mariupol, which had a prewar population of more than 400,000. Russian forces have pounded much of the city into rubble, trapping civilians with little food, water, heat or medicine. Some Mariupol residents got out of the city on their own, often in damaged private cars. As sunset approached, Mariupol resident Yaroslav Dmytryshyn rattled up to a reception center in Zaporizhzhia in a car with a back seat full of youngsters and two signs taped to the back window: “Children” and “Little ones.” “I can’t believe we survived,” he said, looking worn but in good spirits after two days on the road. “There is no Mariupol whatsoever,″ he said. “Someone needs to rebuild it, and it will take millions of tons of gold.” He said they lived just across the railroad tracks from the steel plant. “Ruined,” he said. “The factory is gone completely.” Anastasiia Dembytska, who took advantage of the cease-fire to leave with her daughter, nephew and dog, said she could see the steelworks from her window, when she dared to look out. “We could see the rockets flying” and clouds of smoke over the plant, she said. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told Greek state television that remaining civilians in the steel plant were afraid to board buses because they feared they would be taken to Russia. He said he had been assured by the U.N. that they would be allowed to go to areas his government controls. More than 1 million people, including nearly 200,000 children, have been taken from Ukraine to Russia since the Russian invasion began, Russia’s Defense Ministry said Monday, according to TASS. Defense Ministry official Mikhail Mizintsev said that number included 11,550 people, including 1,847 children, in the previous 24 hours, “without the participation of the Ukrainian authorities.” He said those civilians “were evacuated to the territory of the Russian Federation from the dangerous regions of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics,” and other parts of Ukraine, according to the report. No details were provided. Also Read: Evacuation of civilians from Ukrainian steel plant begins Also Monday, Zelenskyy said that at least 220 Ukrainian children have been killed by the Russian army since the war began, and 1,570 educational institutions have been destroyed or damaged. Thwarted in his bid to seize Kyiv, the capital, Russian President Vladimir Putin has shifted his focus to the Donbas, Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, where Moscow-backed separatists have been battling Ukrainian forces since 2014. Russia said it struck dozens of military targets in the region, including concentrations of troops and weapons and an ammunition depot near Chervone in the Zaporizhzhia region, west of the Donbas. Ukrainian and Western officials say Moscow’s troops are raining fire indiscriminately, taking a heavy toll on civilians while making only slow progress. The governor of the Odesa region along the Black Sea Coast, Maksym Marchenko, said on Telegram that a Russian missile strike Monday on an Odesa infrastructure target caused deaths and injuries. He gave no details. Zelenskyy said the attack destroyed a dormitory and killed a 14-year-old boy. Ukraine said Russia also struck a strategic road and rail bridge west of Odesa. The bridge was heavily damaged in previous Russian strikes, and its destruction would cut a supply route for weapons and other cargo from neighboring Romania. The attack on Odessa came eight years to the day after deadly clashes between Ukrainian government supporters and protesters calling for autonomy in the country’s east. The government supporters in 2014 firebombed a trade union building containing pro-autonomy demonstrators, killing over 40 people. Ukraine claimed to have destroyed two small Russian patrol boats in the Black Sea. Mariupol, which lies in the Donbas, is key to Russia’s campaign in the east. Its capture would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, allow Russia to establish a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014, and free up troops for fighting elsewhere.
Russia seeking military aid from China: US official
A U.S. official said Russia asked China for military equipment to use in its invasion of Ukraine, a request that heightened tensions about the ongoing war ahead of a Monday meeting in Rome between top aides for the U.S. and Chinese governments. In advance of the talks, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan bluntly warned China to avoid helping Russia evade punishment from global sanctions that have hammered the Russian economy. “We will not allow that to go forward,” he said. The prospect of China offering Russia financial help is one of several concerns for President Joe Biden. A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters, said that in recent days, Russia had requested support from China, including military equipment, to press forward in its ongoing war with Ukraine. The official did not provide details on the scope of the request. The request was first reported by the Financial Times and The Washington Post. The Biden administration is also accusing China of spreading Russian disinformation that could be a pretext for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces to attack Ukraine with chemical or biological weapons. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put China in a delicate spot with two of its biggest trading partners: the U.S. and European Union. China needs access to those markets, yet it also has shown support for Moscow, joining with Russia in declaring a friendship with “no limits.” In his talks with senior Chinese foreign policy adviser Yang Jiechi, Sullivan will indeed be looking for limits in what Beijing will do for Moscow. Read:War censorship exposes Putin’s leaky internet controls “I’m not going to sit here publicly and brandish threats,” he told CNN in a round of Sunday news show interviews. “But what I will tell you is we are communicating directly and privately to Beijing that there absolutely will be consequences” if China helps Russia “backfill” its losses from the sanctions. “We will not allow that to go forward and allow there to be a lifeline to Russia from these economic sanctions from any country anywhere in the world,” he said. In brief comments on the talks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian did not mention Ukraine, saying that the “key issue of this meeting is to implement the important consensus reached by the Chinese and U.S. heads of state in their virtual summit in November last year.” “They will exchange views on China-U.S. relations and international and regional issues of common concern,” Zhao said in comments posted on the ministry’s website late Sunday. The White House said the talks will focus on the direct impact of Russia’s war against Ukraine on regional and global security. Biden administration officials say Beijing is spreading false Russian claims that Ukraine was running chemical and biological weapons labs with U.S. support. They say China is effectively providing cover if Russia moves ahead with a biological or chemical weapons attack on Ukrainians. When Russia starts accusing other countries of preparing to launch biological or chemical attacks, Sullivan told NBC’s “Meet the Press,” “it’s a good tell that they may be on the cusp of doing it themselves.” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, on ABC’s “This Week,” said “we haven’t seen anything that indicates some sort of imminent chemical or biological attack right now, but we’re watching this very, very closely.” The striking U.S. accusations about Russian disinformation and Chinese complicity came after Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova alleged with no evidence that the U.S. was financing Ukrainian chemical and biological weapons labs. The Russian claim was echoed by Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, who claimed there were 26 bio-labs and related facilities in “which the U.S. Department of Defense has absolute control.” The United Nations has said it has received no information backing up such accusations. White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the claims “preposterous.” There is growing concern inside the White House that China is aligning itself with Russia on the Ukraine war in hopes it will advance Beijing’s “vision of the world order” in the long term, according to a person familiar with administration thinking. The person was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity. Sullivan told “Face the Nation” on CBS that the Russian rhetoric on chemical and biological warfare is “an indicator that, in fact, the Russians are getting ready to do it and try and pin the blame elsewhere and nobody should fall for that.” The international community has assessed that Russia used chemical weapons in attempts to assassinate Putin detractors such as Alexei Navalny and former spy Sergei Skripal. Russia also supports the Assad government in Syria, which has used chemical weapons against its people in a decadelong civil war. Read:Zelenskyy vows to keep negotiating with Russia China has been one of few countries to avoid criticizing the Russians for its invasion of Ukraine. China’s leader Xi Jinping hosted Putin for the opening of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, just three weeks before Russia invaded on Feb. 24. During Putin’s visit, the two leaders issued a 5,000-word statement declaring limitless friendship. The Chinese abstained on U.N. votes censuring Russia and has criticized economic sanctions against Moscow. It has expressed its support for peace talks and offered its services as a mediator, despite questions about its neutrality and scant experience mediating international conflict. But questions remain over how far Beijing will go to alienate the West and put its own economy at risk. Sullivan said China and all countries are on notice that they cannot “basically bail Russia out ... give Russia a workaround to the sanctions,” with impunity. Chinese officials have said Washington shouldn’t be able to complain about Russia’s actions because the U.S. invaded Iraq under false pretenses. The U.S. claimed to have evidence Saddam Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction though none was ever found. On CNN, Sullivan said the administration believes China knew that Putin “was planning something” before the invasion of Ukraine. But he said the Chinese government “may not have understood the full extent of it because it’s very possible that Putin lied to them the same way that he lied to Europeans and others.” Sullivan and Yang last met for face-to-face talks in Switzerland, where Sullivan raised the Biden administration’s concerns about China’s military provocations against Taiwan, human rights abuses against ethnic minorities and efforts to squelch pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong. That meeting set the stage for a three-hour long virtual meeting in November between Biden and Xi. Sullivan is also to meet Luigi Mattiolo, diplomatic adviser to Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, while in Rome.
Trump, US officials send mixed messages on virus risk here
President Donald Trump and his chief economic adviser said Tuesday that the new coronavirus is under control in the U.S., even as the government's top disease fighters warned Americans to prepare for an outbreak here.
Taiwan's leader meets with US official after election win
Fresh from a landslide reelection victory, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen met Sunday with the de facto U.S. ambassador to Taipei, as China warned that countries should stick with recognizing communist-ruled Beijing as the rightful government of "one China," including Taiwan.