President leaves for three-day visit to Bangladesh

Embarking on his maiden foreign tour since taking over the highest constitutional post seven months ago, President Pranab Mukherjee left here today for Dhaka on a three-day state visit to Bangladesh amidst a general strike called by Jamaat-e-Islami in that country to protest conviction of its three top leaders for war crimes.

The visit by Mukherjee, invested with a lot of symbolism, takes place in the backdrop of spiralling violence by Jamaat-e-Islami, whose three leaders have been convicted by an international war crimes tribunal of genocide, rape and crimes against humanity during Bangladesh’s liberation war in 1971, and a popular upsurge mostly by youths at the Shahbagh Square in central Dhaka pressing for death penalty for war criminals.

The two-day strike called by Jamaat coincides with Mukherjee’s visit as does another shutdown called by the fundamentalist outfit’s alliance partner and main Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led by Khaleda Zia on the last day of the visit on March 5.

Jamaat has called the strike demanding a halt to the trial of their leaders on war crime charges and BNP is set to enforce the shutdown protesting alleged crackdown by the police on Jamaat activists last Thursday. It is in this backdrop that the visit by the President rides high on symbolism especially when Mukherjee receives Bangladesh’s highest award from his Bangladeshi counterpart Md Zillur Rahman on March 4 for his contribution to the independence of the country.

The visit takes place at a time when the trial of the Islamists for the crimes they committed during the liberation war triggered a popular upsurge at Shahbagh Square against religious fundamentalism in the neighbouring country. New Delhi has already voiced its support for the agitation.

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