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Powell Thanks Bangladesh for Support in War Against Terrorism - 2003-06-19

Secretary of State Colin Powell says he is traveling to Israel and the Palestinian territories to restore momentum to U.S. efforts to bring peace to the region. He briefly visited Bangladesh en route from an Asian security conference to the Middle East.

Mr. Powell told reporters in Dhaka that he expects to visit Jerusalem for talks with Israeli officials, and then travel to Palestinian territories on Friday to advance the U.S. backed road map to peace.

The Secretary of State says some progress is being made by Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas in efforts to negotiate a cease-fire with Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups.

Earlier this month, President Bush met with the Palestinian and Israeli prime ministers to affirm the Middle East peace plan. But efforts to bring peace to the region suffered a setback with tit-for-tat attacks that have killed more than 50 Israelis and Palestinians since then.

Mr. Powell condemned the latest suicide bombing in Israel, in which a Palestinian killed an Israeli storekeeper. He said such militants "will destroy the hopes and dreams of the Palestinian people."

During his stopover in Dhaka, Mr. Powell met with Bangladesh's Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and Foreign Minister Morshed Khan.

American officials say the visit was intended to thank the Bangladesh government for its backing in the U.S. led war against terror, and underscore American support for a Muslim country "that is trying to make democracy succeed."

Bangladesh says its moderate Islamic standing and strong stance against terrorism set the stage for the visit.

Mr. Powell praised Bangladesh's commitment to democracy. He says the Washington wants to see the country make economic progress, and wants to help the country fight poverty.

He also urged Bangladesh's feuding leaders to make peace for the sake of the country. Bangladesh's two main parties are led by bitter rivals, Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and opposition leader Sheikh Hasina. Both have led disruptive campaigns of protests and general strikes against the other in the past decade.

A huge security operation was in place for the visit, parts of Dhaka and key roads were cordoned off. Wednesday, Islamists, leftists groups, and students held noisy demonstrations protesting Mr. Powell's trip and denouncing the U.S.-led war against Iraq. Smaller protests were also held.

The opposition Awami League called a general strike against what it says is increasing lawlessness.

Bangladesh is the world's third-largest Muslim-majority country and witnessed frequent anti-war protests during the Iraq war.

The government supported the U.S. attack on the former Taleban government in Afghanistan, but opposed the Iraq war.