Protests Will Mark Clinton's South Asian Tour

July 7, 2008 - 7:07 PM

New Delhi (CNSNews.com) - President Bill Clinton's five-day tour of the South Asian region next week will be accompanied by demonstrations mounted by people protesting on a wide cross-section of issues.

Extreme leftist groups, Islamic fundamentalists, trade unionists, students and disaster victims have all decided to hold protest marches in New Delhi, Dhaka and other cities during Clinton's visit to India and Bangladesh.

He will also make a stopover in Pakistan, but only for a few hours. Islamabad on Wednesday announced that a complete ban on all outdoor political gatherings. It was not immediately known whether this restriction was aimed at blocking protests against Clinton.

Indian police said the protests, including a planned march on parliament during a visit by Clinton, were unlikely to disrupt his itinerary.

"Clinton's program schedule will not be allowed to be disturbed at any cost by these protestors," Delhi Police Commissioner Ajay Raj Sharma told CNSNews.com.

"The protestors will be stopped quite a distance from parliament," Sharma added. "Clinton and protestors are unlikely to come face to face."

Among other demonstrations, protestors plan to burn an effigy of Clinton and American flags. Placards will urge the "playboy" president to go home while those displayed by victims of a 1984 gas explosion will ask for his apology.

"We are planning countrywide protests in all forms, including demonstrations," said a spokesperson for the Communist Party, adding that three other left wing parties would also oppose the trip.

Marxist-Leninist party general-secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya told CNSNews.com that its lawmakers would boycott the parliamentary session to protest "the US imperialistic attitude against the third world, including India."

Bhattacharya said party supporters would also stage protests in other cities in India and Bangladesh.

Whether or not the contentious issue of Kashmir figures in the talks between the American and Indian leaders, it will certainly figure in demonstrations by different groups.

A Kashmiri separatist political leader, Shabir Shah, said in a statement, "We will urge Bill Clinton to resolve the Kashmir crisis. We will also urge him to impress upon India to give us the right to self determination."

Panun Kashmir, an organization of minority Hindus who fled from the disputed territory following attacks by Muslim militants, said in a statement, "There can be no solution to the Kashmir issue without our participation."

Clinton recently offered to help settle the Kashmir dispute, provided both India and Pakistan request his mediation. New Delhi has rejected third party mediation in Kashmir.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and both countries claim the entire territory. The neighbors have fought two wars over Kashmir, and more than a dozen Islamic militant groups have been fighting a secessionist war in the Indian portion since 1989.

Survivors of the 1984 explosion at the Union Carbide chemical plant in Bhopal said they would press for a public apology from Clinton.

"We call upon you to apologize to the residents of Bhopal for the barbaric act of genocide perpetrated by Union Carbide," said Anees Ahmed, leader of the Bhopal Action Group.

The tragedy has cost nearly 7,200 lives so far, and Ahmed's group contends that the toll could eventually reach 25,000. Tens of thousands who survived the gas explosion still suffer from a variety of ailments.

Clinton's one-day visit to Bangladesh on March 20th is also unlikely to be a peaceful one. Leftist students at Dhaka University and at least ten other left-wing parties plan a series of protests.

Both left wing and Islamic groups in Bangladesh claim Clinton's visit is an attempt to pressure the government to award lucrative deals to American companies for gas and oil exploration.

Activists of the National Oil and Gas Protection Committee also plan to hold an anti-US march to protest the contracting out of Dhaka's oil and gas fields to American and other foreign companies.

The Left Democratic Front said in a statement that the Clinton visit was neither "a general diplomatic tour nor a reflection of goodwill" towards Bangladeshis.

"Rather it aims at strengthening US power in South Asia and establishing an absolute command over the country's oil and gas resources," the LDF charged.

The right wing Islamic Oikya Jote also criticized the visit, claiming it reflected the ruling Awami League's "weak foreign policy."

The US Embassy in Dhaka estimates American investment in Bangladesh could rise from $700 million now to $2.3 billion within four years.

For photos of demonstrations