US urges restoration of democracy in Bangladesh

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DHAKA, Sep 18 (Reuters) The United States urged Bangladesh today to take further steps to restore democracy after a decision this month by the army-backed interim administration to allow limited political activity.

Bangladesh has been under a state of emergency since January when the interim authority took over after months of political violence, cancelled elections and banned all political activities.

The government says it will hold elections late next year after completing a campaign against corruption and abuse of power.

Visiting US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs John Gastright discussed prospects of a return to democracy with government leaders in Dhaka, the US embassy said in a statement, after the decision to lift a ban on indoor political activities.

''The US government looks forward to additional steps by Bangladesh to restore democracy as soon as possible, and the two discussed the steps underway to prepare for elections by the end of 2008,'' the statement said.

''Full democracy is vital to the country. Full participation in the electoral process is also vital to democracy,'' the statement said.

The government said earlier this month that it was lifting a ban on indoor political activity to let parties prepare for elections next year.

Rights groups have repeatedly urged the interim administration to restore political freedoms.

More then 170 political leaders, including two former prime ministers, Begum Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina, have been detained in a drive by the interim authority to stamp out corruption.

Reuters ARB GC1843

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