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Monday, July 7, 2008
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Holding fair polls under emergency difficult

Says UK envoy

British High Commissioner to Bangladesh Stephan Evans yesterday said it is difficult to hold general elections in Bangladesh in a free and fair manner with the state of emergency in place.

The outcome of the coming general election would be doubtful if it is held under the state of emergency, Evans told journalists at a press conference at his residence in the capital.

"There is a consensus that ideally you can't have state of emergency when you hold general elections. It is difficult to hold general election that is free and fair under the state of emergency," said the new British envoy who presented his credentials to the president earlier yesterday.

Expressing optimism that the general elections will be held in December as scheduled, he said, "We want to see the progress towards the lifting of the state of emergency...I have been told that the caretaker government is determined that the elections should take place as scheduled in December."

Asked if the election would be acceptable to the international community if any major political party boycotts it, he said it is not the international community but the people of Bangladesh to accept the result of the elections.

"Britain wants to see an inclusive election, including participation by all political parties, wide range of candidates, greater level of campaign and significant voter turnout," he added.

Asked about alleged tortures on political leaders in custody, Evans said it is for sure that Britain would not under any circumstances condone tortures to anyone in custody, which lead to the person being injured.

Asked for his comment on the point that a top leader of a political party was released while others are still in jails, he said legal processes should be followed in appropriate fashion that respects the individual's rights because anyone arrested or charged deserves fair hearing.

On observing the elections by Britain, he said as part of the European Union Britain would do the job with the EU during the campaigns and the elections.

Evans said the media in Bangladesh is very vibrant and is playing a significant role. This freedom must be protected and safety of journalists must be ensured.

Responding to a question, he said the challenges the South Asian region faces today are terrorism, environment and climate change, which have serious impacts on Bangladesh.

"We shall continue to work together to counter the threat from those who seek to profit from division, suspicion and violence and to address the root causes of extremism both here and around the world," Evans said.

British Department for International Development (DFID), which provides Bangladesh with 114 million a year, intends to scale up its contribution to 150 million by 2010, he said.

The UK will strive to maximise the efficiency of its visa service, reduce waiting times for decisions and provide transparency in issuing visas, he noted, adding, "We shall continue to work with Bangladesh to reduce identity fraud and prevent trafficking and irregular migration."

Deputy British High Commissioner Duncan Norman, British Council Director June Rollinson and DFID Acting Head Sarah Sanayhumby were present at the press conference.

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