Bangladesh PM Hasina seeks people’s support at victory rally

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Supporters wave Awami League political party flags during a rally celebrating the party's overwhelming victory in last month's election in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019. (AP Photo)
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Supporters of Bangladesh Awami League attend a grand rally in Dhaka on January 19, 2019, to celebrate its landslide victory in 11th parliamentary election held on December 30. (AFP)
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A supporter of Bangladesh Awami League attends a grand rally in Dhaka on January 19, 2019, to celebrate its landslide victory in 11th parliamentary election held on December 30. (AFP)
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A supporters of Bangladesh Awami League with his hair cut like the party election symbol (boat) gestures in Dhaka on January 19, 2019, as they attend a grand rally, to celebrate its landslide victory in 11th parliamentary election held on December 30. (AFP)
Updated 19 January 2019
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Bangladesh PM Hasina seeks people’s support at victory rally

  • The opposition is demanding a new election, saying the Dec. 30 polls were rigged
  • The Election Commission and Hasina have rejected the allegation

DHAKA: Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who won a third straight term with an overwhelming majority in last month’s election, sought the people’s support at a victory rally Saturday amid international calls for an investigation into alleged irregularities during the polls.
The opposition is demanding a new election, saying the Dec. 30 polls were rigged, an allegation the Election Commission and Hasina have rejected.
On Saturday, Hasina told tens of thousands of her supporters in a park in Dhaka, the capital, that she would “work for all” amid criticism that she could become increasingly authoritarian.
A Hasina-led alliance won 288 seats in the 300-seat Parliament in the election. The opposition-led alliance won only seven seats, with all of its lawmakers refraining from taking their oaths to protest the results.
More than a dozen people were killed in election-related violence on the day of the polls, and the election campaign was dogged by allegations of arrests and the jailing of thousands of Hasina’s opponents.
Hasina’s archrival, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, has been in jail since February last year for corruption and was deemed ineligible to run for office because of a case that her supporters say was politically motivated.
The Election Commission and other departments were also accused of overlooking complaints of irregularities by the opposition. Ahead of the election, a new digital security law was enacted that raised concerns it would curb speech and media freedoms.
Hasina, who had asked her supporters to avoid any immediate celebration after the election, thanked all political parties for contesting and termed the polls “fair.”
But she would not utter a single word Saturday about the opposition demand for a new election or global calls for an investigation into the allegations of irregularities.
“I want cooperation from the people ... let’s get united and build Bangladesh,” she told her cheering supporters, many of whom waved small red-and-green national flags.
“The (people’s) verdict in the Dec. 30 polls came against terrorism, corruption and drugs,” she said. “I will uphold their mandate, if necessary, by sacrificing my life.”
While New York-based Human Rights Watch urged an independent investigation into the alleged irregularities, the US, the EU and the UN all expressed their concerns. But powerful countries including the US pledged to continue to work with the Hasina-led government and the opposition for democratic advancement in the South Asian nation of 160 million people, which is a parliamentary democracy.
Congratulatory messages to the new government came from India, China, Saudi Arabia, Japan and many other countries, giving Hasina confidence that her development agenda has attracted nations, many of which are directly involved in trade and big infrastructure development schemes in Bangladesh. Before the election, Hasina drummed up support for her development schemes ranging from a nuclear power plant to a new seaport.
On Saturday, Hasina promised to curb poverty as she painted a scene of “a developed country in South Asia” by 2041.


Europe lawmakers expelled as aid showdown intensifies

A dentist at a medical camp set up by volunteers in Caracas on Sunday. (Reuters)
Updated 31 min 45 sec ago
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Europe lawmakers expelled as aid showdown intensifies

  • Volunteer groups have begun meeting in ‘humanitarian camps’

CARACAS: Venezuela has expelled five visiting European lawmakers, an act opposition leader Juan Guaido branded “irrational” as his showdown with President Nicolas Maduro over the arrival of international aid intensifies.
The members of the European Parliament were being tossed out with no explanation, said Spanish MEP Esteban Gonzalez Pons, who led the group.
“We are being expelled from Venezuela. Our passports have been seized. They have not informed us of the reason for the expulsion,” Pons said.
The incident on Sunday is the latest point of tension between the international community and Maduro, who is in the grip of a power struggle with Guaido, the head of the National Assembly who proclaimed himself interim president last month.
Guaido has the backing of more than 50 countries including 30 in Europe.
Pons’ fellow Spaniards Jose Ignacio Salafranca and Gabriel Mato Adrover, as well as Esther de Lange of the Netherlands and Paulo Rangel of Portugal, were also expelled. All are members of the conservative European People’s Party (PPE).
Writing on Twitter, Guaido said the MEPs were being “deported by an isolated and increasingly irrational regime.”
Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said the Europeans had “conspiratorial aims” and were sent back from the country’s main Maiquetia airport.
Earlier Sunday, Guaido set a goal of enlisting a million volunteers within a week to confront a government blockade that has kept tons of humanitarian aid, most of it from the US, from flowing into the country where residents can’t get enough food and say they are dying because of a shortage of medicines.
Guaido has given next Saturday — one month to the day after he proclaimed himself acting president — as the date for a showdown with Maduro over the aid.
Food supplies, hygiene kits and nutritional supplements have been stockpiled near the Venezuelan border in Cucuta, Colombia.
Additional storage centers are supposed to open this week in Brazil and Curacao, a Dutch island off Venezuela’s northern Caribbean coast.
“Our principal task is to reach a million volunteers by February 23,” Guaido said in a message to the 600,000 supporters who have signed up so far for the push to bring aid in.
Caravans of buses are being planned to carry volunteers to border entry points to meet and transport arriving cargo. Guaido has kept to himself how he plans to overcome the border barriers put up by the Venezuelan military, on Maduro’s orders.
Volunteer groups have begun meeting in “humanitarian camps” in several Venezuelan states to organize and prepare for the aid arrival.
They have started to identify the most vulnerable and have begun caring for the needy in accordance with Guaido’s promises.
Sometimes working under awnings or tents, doctors, nurses, dentists and pediatricians have attended to local residents who can receive donated medications.
Patients arrive with respiratory, skin or other ailments, and suffering from malnutrition.
An imploding economy has driven an estimated 2.3 million Venezuelans to migrate from the oil-rich country. Those who remain have been punished by hyperinflation that has put scarce food and medicine out of reach for many.
Andrea Hernandez, a physical therapy student whose mother is a pediatric nurse, is among those offering her help. Hernandez said her mother often “cried from seeing her patients die from lack of medicine.”
Yorger Maita, a helper from the aid group Rescate Venezuela, said that if foreign aid does not enter “other people will continue to die.”
Maduro, who denies the existence of a humanitarian crisis, dismisses the opposition moves as a “political show” and a cover for a US invasion.
US Senator Marco Rubio arrived Sunday in Cucuta for a first-hand look at the aid operations.
“Whoever prevents the entry of humanitarian aid is condemned to spend the rest of their lives fleeing international justice, because that is an international crime,” Rubio said in Spanish.
Three US military cargo planes delivered several dozen more tons of food assistance to Cucuta on Saturday.
Another US aircraft is due in Curacao from Miami on Tuesday, and a collection center for Brazilian aid will open Monday on the border, Guaido’s team said.
Venezuelans based in Miami held their own drive, putting together 1,000 crates of food to send to their homeland.
On Friday, Maduro instructed his army to prepare a “special deployment plan” for the 2,200-kilometer (1,370-mile) border with Colombia.
Guaido appealed for the military to let the aid pass.
Maduro has dismissed the humanitarian assistance as “crumbs” and “rotten and contaminated food” while blaming shortages of food and medicine on US sanctions.