* U.S. visit could spotlight rising rights concerns
* Clinton to meet ousted Grameen bank chief Yunus
* U.S. has offered Bangladesh $1 billion over 5 years
By Andrew Quinn
BEIJING, May 5 Leaving behind diplomatic drama
over a Chinese dissident, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton faced a fresh test on Saturday as she moves on to
Bangladesh where the disappearance of an opposition leader has
fueled growing tensions.
Clinton will meet Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her
opposition rival, Begum Khaleda Zia, following her arrival late
on Saturday, and will also pay a call on Nobel laureate Muhammad
Yunus, whose removal from the pioneering micro-lender Grameen
Bank has been criticized by Washington.
A senior U.S. State Department official said Clinton's visit
would highlight growing cooperation between Washington and Dhaka
on everything from counter-terrorism and U.N. peacekeeping to
global health and food security.
"Her visit is an opportunity to show Bangladesh's government
and 160 million citizens that America is truly Bangladesh's
partner," the official said.
But the trip will also likely put fresh focus on the Obama
administration's commitment to human rights after the standoff
in Beijing over activist Chen Guangcheng, whose flight to the
U.S. embassy after escaping house arrest overshadowed Clinton's
three days of meetings in Beijing.
China on Friday announced that Chen would be allowed to
apply to study in the United States - a move praised by Clinton
- but critics have accused U.S. diplomats of mishandling the
situation and failing to do enough to shield him from Chinese
Clinton will be the first senior U.S. official to visit
Bangladesh since 2004, and U.S. officials depict the trip as
part of a broad U.S. "pivot" to greater engagement across the
She will conclude the trip with visits to the Indian cities
of Kolkata and New Delhi early next week.
RIGHTS RECORD UNDER SCRUTINY
Clinton arrives in Bangladesh amid mounting turmoil as
Khaleda's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Hasina's ruling
Awami League party have accused each other of abducting former
BNP lawmaker Ilyas Ali.
Five people were killed in clashes between police and
protesters during a rash of recent strikes, the worst violence
in the past three years of Hasina's rule in one of the poorest
countries in Asia.
Pressure group Human Rights Watch said Ali's case was part
of an alarming rise in the abduction of political activists and
opposition members, and it called on Hasina's government to
mount a credible investigation.
"The government has taken no serious steps to ensure such an
investigation of these disappearances takes place nor to prevent
them in the first place," the group's Asia director, Brad Adams,
said in a statement.
Clinton is expected to bring up the harassment and
disappearance of political leaders and other human rights
violations, and may press for a return to a system where
elections were held under a non-party caretaker administration.
Political tension has already led the BNP to stage two
countrywide general strikes although it has also promised not to
disrupt Clinton's visit.
Analysts fear that more unrest could threaten Bangladesh's
ambition to become a middle-income country by 2021, a drive
which could benefit from more U.S. help for its economy,
additional investment and quota-free access for goods to U.S.
In January, the United States said it would provide close to
$1 billion in aid for Bangladesh over the next five years.
Washington wants Dhaka to sign a Trade and Investment
Cooperation Forum Agreement and a strategic partnership.
Despite the political storm clouds, Clinton's visit marks
continued strong U.S. engagement with Bangladesh, which her
husband, former President Bill Clinton, visited in a landmark
trip in 2000.
The Clintons have long been friendly with Yunus, an
economics professor who set up Grameen Bank decades ago and
gained world fame as a banker to the poor, and the United States
has criticized his forced dismissal in 2011 because he was
beyond the legally mandated retirement age.
Yunus' supporters described the move as a political vendetta
by the government against what it saw as a potential future
challenger to Hasina.
Clinton will also meet Fazle Hasan Abed, founder of BRAC,
another Bangladesh-based non-governmental group whose pioneering
anti-poverty programs have expanded as far as Afghanistan,
Tanzania and Haiti, the U.S. official said.
"Her meetings with the two development innovators will
reaffirm our commitment to the institutions they built, as well
as to broader civil society in Bangladesh," the official said.
(Editing by Robert Birsel)