Bangladesh Minister Scraps Visit; Government Says Don't Read Much Into It

Massive protests have broken out in Assam and parts of the North East following the passage of the controversial Citizenship Bill in the Rajya Sabha late Wednesday night

Bangladesh Foreign Minister cancels India visit amid violence in North East

New Delhi:

Bangladesh Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen has cancelled his visit to India due to "increasing demands at home". The cancellation comes amid violent protests in the North East over the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. Shortly after news of the cancellation External Affairs Ministry (MEA) spokesperson Raveesh Kumar addressed a media briefing and cautioned against reading too much into Mr Momen's decision. According to news agency ANI Mr Momen was to visit India between December 12 and 14 to attend the Indian Ocean Dialogue and hold talks with Foreign Minister S Jaishankar. An advisory issued by the MEA said he was expected in New Delhi at 5.20 pm.

"We know the visit has been cancelled... I understand the Foreign Minister has given an explanation. Our relations are strong, like our two leaders have said repeatedly said, and I don't think this cancellation will have any effect," Raveesh Kumar said.

"I had to cancel my trip to New Delhi as I have to participate in Buddijibi Debosh (Martyred Intellectuals Day - December 14) and Bijoy Debosh (Victory Day of Bangladesh - December 16) and more so as our State Minister is out of the country in Madrid and our Foreign Secretary is in The Hague. Given increasing demand at home, I decided to cancel his trip," Mr Momen said earlier, according to ANI.

Massive protests have broken out in Assam and parts of the North East following the passage of the Citizenship Bill, which looks to make Indian citizens of non-Muslim refugees facing religious persecution in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, in the Rajya Sabha late Wednesday night.

Earlier this week Mr Momen, speaking to reporters in Dhaka, said allegations of repression of minorities in his country were "untrue".

"Whoever gave them the information, it is not correct. Many important decisions of our country are taken by persons belonging to different religions... we never judge anybody by their religion," he said.

Mr Momen also praised India for being a "historically tolerant country" but said that legacy of secularism could be "weakened". He added: "... naturally our people expect India won't do anything that could create anxiety among them".

Questioned over the Bangladesh Foreign Minister's comments, the MEA spokesperson said it had been "made clear" persecution had not taken place under the current Bangladesh government.

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MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar urged the media to not read too much into the Bangladesh Foreign Minister cancelling his India visit

"We have made it clear persecution of minorities has not taken place under current Bangladeshi government... abuse took place during previous government and military rule... current government has taken steps to substantially address concerns of minorities as per Constitutional provisions," he said.

Protests in Assam have also thrown Prime Minister Narendra Modi's proposed summit meeting with his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe; the two were to meet in Guwahati and Imphal on Sunday and Monday. The MEA spokesperson declined to comment, "saying he had no update to share right now".

Five columns of the Indian Army - each consisting of 70 personnel - have been deployed in Assam. In Guwahati two columns carried out flag marches, news agency PTI said quoting Indian Army PRO Lt Col P Khongsai. Mobile internet services have been suspended in 10 districts of the state since Wednesday evening; neighbouring Tripura suspended the same for 48 hours starting Tuesday.

The controversial Citizenship Bill was cleared by the Rajya Sabha with 125 votes for and 99 against, two days after it sailed through the Lok Sabha where 334 MPs voted for and 106 voted against.

With input from PTI, ANI

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