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U S says to help Dhaka fight terrorism, hold polls

Written by: Staff
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DHAKA, Apr 24 (Reuters) The United States will provide assistance to Bangladesh to fight terrorism and hold free and fair national elections early next year, the new U S ambassador Patricia A.

Butenis said today.

She said the U.S. welcomed the arrest of top two Islamist militants blamed for a spate of bombings in Bangladesh last year, and hoped that authorities will bring the two and their supporters to justice soon.

''Fighting terrorism is a priority not just for Bangladesh, but for the entire world...it is about freedom, tolerance and respect for others,'' Butenis told reporters.

She said the U.S. was giving training and technical assistance to Bangladesh to tackle terrorism as well as help draft legislation against money laundering and terror financing.

At least 30 people have been killed and 150 wounded in bomb attacks since August, blamed on Islamist groups -- Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen and Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh -- as part of their campaign to turn the mainly Muslim democracy into an Islamic state.

Security forces captured Shayek Abdur Rahman, the leader of the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen and Siddikul Islam Bangla Bhai, the chief of the Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh ,in separate operations last month.

Butenis also urged Bangladesh's warring political parties to stop fighting in the streets and hold talks to resolve their differences and ensure free and fair elections next year.

''Election is my second priority. We will help Bangladesh in holding a free and fair election.,'' she said.

A 14-party opposition alliance led by Awami League has been trying to build up pressure on the government, accusing it of failing to improve law and order, reduce prices and end shortages of essential goods.

Prime Minister Khaleda Zia has said she would serve out her full five-year term and challenged the opposition to face her in the election due in January 2007.

REUTERS PR VC1803

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