UK seeks clarification on lifting of emergency in Bangladesh

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Dhaka, Dec 19 (UNI) The United Kingdom has sought clarification from the military-backed caretaker government of Bangladesh when the state of emergency will be lifted as Britain supports the roadmap to hold general elections in the reiverine country before December 2008.

The state of emergency was imposed on January 11 this year to cool down political turmoil over the general elections, earlier slated for January 22. The Election Commission had announced that the stalled elections would be held before December next year.

'' There are fresh challenges that this country is facing. It is important that the elections are held and seen by all sides as free, fair and credible. These are all essential characteristics of an election that would be crucial to the future of Bangladesh,'' British International Development Minister Douglas Alexander told a pre-departure press conference today.

Mr Alexander, who visited some cyclone hit areas to review relief and rehabilitation efforts in southern coastal districts of Barguna and Barisal, announced over USD 200 million new funding for cyclone repair, climate change adaptation, urban slum improvement and technical skill training.

Of the amount, the British Minister said USD 6.3 million would be spent on repairing houses and cyclone shelters and USD 60 million to help Bangladesh adapt to the impact of climate change.

The UK will also provide USD 120 million to benefit three million people in 16 poor urban areas under the Urban Partnership for Poverty Reduction Programme and more than USD 25 million to help out-of-school children gain basic education and vocational skills to improve their chances of employment, he said.

The UK's total aid to Bangladesh in 2007-08 is approximately USD 234 million.

Mr Alexander met Chief Election Commissioner Dr Shamsul Huda and said the UK will provide an additional USD 2 million to partner NGOs to support the registration of missing voters in the CHT. Earlier, Britain provided USD 20 million to support preparation of electoral rolls.

'' We welcome the Chief Election Commissioner's statement that the voter lists and electoral reforms be completed earlier than planned, then the elections can be brought further forward from December 2008,'' he said.

Asked about the 21 British MPs reported motion in the House of Commons expressing concern over fair elections by keeping two ex-Prime Ministers in jail, he said, '' We have consistently made clear through our offices of the High Commissioner the need for due process and that laws are upheld.'' British High Commissioner to Bangladesh Anwar Choudhury said the British Government had from the very beginning asked to follow the due process but he would not make any comments about the cases against the two ex-Prime Ministers Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia since they are now within the judicial process.

'' We are monitoring them (cases) as is the rest of the international community. Indeed, people and journalists need to monitor closely and I am sure that when the time comes, we will have our opinion,'' Mr Choudhary said.

Asked about the lifting of the state of emergency, he said, '' we've asked for clarification as to when the state of emergency will be lifted.'' UNI XC PB YA RK2044

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