Pranab Mukherjee visits Bangladesh amid more deaths

President Pranab Mukherjee arrived in Bangladesh to a red-carpet welcome and 21-gun salute even as 14 people were killed in fresh clashes Sunday over the death sentence given to a top Islamist opposition leader. Mukherjee, on his first trip abroad as India’s head of state, was received by President Zillur Rahman at the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.

Welcome: Bangladeshi pedestrians walk past a poster of President Pranab Mukherjee in Dhaka yesterday. His visit coincided with the strike called by the Jamaat-e-Islami protesting their leader’s death sentence. Pic/AFP

The president is accompanied by his wife Suvra Mukherjee and an official delegation, including Minister of State for Railways Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai and four MPs. A special decorated stage was erected on the tarmac with soldiers standing around to welcome Mukherjee. Several Bangladeshi ministers, including Foreign Minister Dipu Moni, were present at the airport to welcome Mukherjee.

The opposition Jamaat-e-Islami called a general strike from March 3-5, coinciding with the president’s visit, to protest the conviction of JI chief Delwar Hossain Sayedee for the 1971 war crimes, including rape and genocide. Over 65 people have been killed so far in the clashes between police and Jamaat supporters, including its student wing, Islami Chhatra Shibir.

The streets of Dhaka are calm, but the visiting journalists have been advised not to venture out alone, but go in groups. The violence has mostly been concentrated in Hindu-dominated Noakhali and in Chittagong, said an official. On Sunday, 14 people, including a police constable, were killed when activists of Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir and supporters of convicted Sayedee clashed with police in five districts.

Mukherjee then flew in a chopper to the National Martyr’s Memorial. He laid a wreath on the memorial and signed the visitor’s book. In his message, the president said that the National Martyrs’ Memorial ‘symbolizes Bangladesh’s struggle for justice, emancipation and independence. It reminds us of the valiant sacrifices made by innumerable men, women and children who fought for their homeland. I pay my deep respect and homage to all those martyrs’.      

Will visit my ‘sasural’ for the first time: Pranab
President Pranab Mukherjee will on Tuesday visit his ‘sasur bari’ or ‘in-laws’ home in Narail district of Bangladesh for the first time. His wife Suvra Mukherjee will also accompany him. “Narail aamar sasur bari. (Narail is my in-laws’ home),” Mukherjee said. He is to visit Bhadrabila village, the ancestral home of his in-laws in Sadar sub-district of Narail, located 150 km from Dhaka.     

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