US says supports Bangladesh election plans

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DHAKA, Sep 19 (Reuters) The United States supports Bangladesh's army-backed interim government's intentions to hold credible democratic elections, a US official said today.

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.

But it has pledged to hold an election by the end of 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 told reporters ''the U.S. supports this caretaker government (in) what they (are) trying to do ... for free and fair elections.'' He said Washington also ''supports the electoral reforms they are trying to achieve.'' Gastright was speaking after meeting Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury, adviser to the interim government and in charge of the foreign ministry.

''The US is not here to dictate. The US is here to listen, to hear the plans of the caretaker government,'' Gastright also said.

The government lifted a ban on indoor political activity earlier this month to let parties prepare for elections.

However, more then 170 political leaders, including two former prime ministers, Begum Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina, have been detained in the authority's drive to stamp out corruption.

The ex-prime ministers say the charges against them are politically motivated.

Asked to comment on the arrests, Gastright said: ''The government must respect the process, must respect ... human rights,'' adding he was hopeful the authority would do so.

''Gastright emphasised the importance of restoring democracy in Bangladesh as soon as possible,'' said a US embassy statement after Gastright met the foreign adviser.

''He (Gastright) assured that the the United States, along with others in the international community, remains eager to assist Bangladesh in successfully holding democratic elections before the end of 2008.'' ''Gastright also expressed appreciation for continued US-Bangladesh cooperation in the global war on terror,'' the statement said.

REUTERS SG PM1525

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