The U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh and European officials are urging the military-backed caretaker government to lift a state of emergency and restore political and civil rights before the scheduled Dec. 18 elections.
"The forthcoming elections should be fair, neutral and credible," Ambassador James Moriarty told reporters in the capital, Dhaka, this week.
"Basically an election under a state of emergency would not be credible. That's what I've said to the caretaker government, and that's what I said to the political parties."
Mr. Moriarty met Monday with Khaleda Zia, the former prime minister and leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Earlier he met with her bitter rival, Sheik Hasina Wajed, also a former prime minister and leader of the Awami League.
An earlier caretaker government imposed a state of emergency on Bangladesh in January 2007, following accusations by the Awami League that the BNP was planning to steal elections scheduled on Jan. 22. The election dispute brought weeks of strikes and violent protests, prompting the military to intervene and install a new caretaker government to rule until elections were rescheduled.
The Awami League says it will participate in the elections, but the BNP is insisting the emergency rule be lifted first and political parties be allowed to hold public rallies. So far the government is resisting, fearing that removing the state of emergency could lead to more political violence.
An envoy from the European Union this week also appealed to the government to lift the emergency. EU Ambassador Stefan Frowein said European governments will not send election observers unless the government restores civil rights.
While less than 25 percent of Americans approve of the job President Bush is doing, he remains popular among Americans who care about Africa.
Africare, the leading U.S. nonprofit organization specializing in African issues, announced Wednesday that Mr. Bush will receive its top honor at its annual dinner in Washington on Nov. 12.
"Since taking office in 2001, President Bush has pioneered a new era in development on the African continent, transforming the way development assistance is carried out by creating partnerships with African governments, businesses and civil society organizations to promote economic growth in Africa," said Africare spokeswoman Tina Musoke.
"The president's emergency plan for AIDS relief is the largest commitment of any nation to combat a single disease in human history."
The Bush administration has allocated $15 billion to fight AIDS in Africa, a continent once devastated by the deadly disease. It also budgeted $34 billion to help reduce government debt throughout the continent. Mr. Bush also committed $2.4 billion to fight poverty and $10 million for clean-water projects, Africare said.
The theme of this year's dinner, "Clean Water - Life's Lifeline," will underscore the lack of clean drinking water for 340 million Africans and proper sanitation for 313 million, Africare said.
At the dinner, Mr. Bush will receive the Bishop John T. Walker Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award, named after the first black Episcopal bishop of Washington.
Previous recipients include President Clinton, President Nelson Mandela of South Africa, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Andrew Young, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
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