U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is urging Bangladeshis to end internal feuding, saying the United States is "betting on Bangladesh."
Clinton met with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Foreign Minister Dipu Moni in Dhaka Saturday, the first day of her visit to a country that many in Washington see as a vital ally.
Speaking with reporters, Clinton said the United States wants to see Bangladesh and its democracy succeed but that violent demonstrations "exact a heavy toll, especially on Bangladesh's poorest and most vulnerable citizens." She urged the government to take the disappearances of opposition activists seriously.
Opposition leaders blame the government for the disappearance last month of key opposition figure Elias Ali. The opposition called off planned strikes for Clinton's visit, but Bangladesh has grown increasingly tense in recent weeks.
Ahead of Clinton's arrival, officials from both countries had spoken of elevating strategic ties between Washington and Dhaka to a new level. Bangladeshi officials have said they want to encourage more investment from the United States and would like to gain greater access to U.S. markets.
But Clinton said for that to happen, Bangladesh must set aside its internal bickering, and end the related violence. She said violence and disappearances "send a negative signal to the international community about the investment climate here."
Clinton praised Bangladesh for its zero tolerance policy on terrorism and for working with the United States to "ensure that extremists are not able to use Bangladesh as a transit or training point to commit violence against Bangladeshis or against people anywhere."
Clinton's visit to Dhaka is the first visit by a U.S. secretary of state since 2003 and is the latest stop on her South Asia tour. Clinton is expected to travel to India next.
Before she leaves, Clinton is also set to meet with opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia and Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunnus, whose removal from the pioneering micro-lender Grameen Bank has been criticized by Washington.
Secretary Clinton's arrival in Dhaka follows several days of meetings with Chinese officials, many centering on the fate of Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng.
Clinton left China having secured an agreement that would allow Chen to apply to study abroad. The deal is seen as a breakthrough in the diplomatic dispute that began when Chen escaped house arrest and fled to the U.S. embassy.
American officials confirmed reports that Chen has received a letter from a U.S. university offering him a fellowship. One of his friends said the school is New York University, and that the blind activist hopes to travel to the U.S. for a while before returning to China.
But Chen's wife, Yuan Weijing, told a reporter in a phone interview Saturday that there is still no timeframe for when Chen may be able to leave. She said it was because Chen is still in the hospital for medical treatment and that none of the required paperwork had been started.
Some human rights activists say the U.S. should be skeptical about the Chinese government's assurances regarding the safety of Chen.
Chen is a self-taught lawyer and human rights activist who has been blind since childhood. He was given a four-year prison sentence in 2006 for exposing abuses under China's forced abortion policy aimed at population control. He had been under house arrest since 2010, before escaping on April 22.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.