Visiting Indian President Pranab Mukherjee met Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Sunday and discussed outstanding issues including the Teesta water treaty even as violence continued in the country over the death sentence to a top Islamist opposition leader.
As Mukherjee began his three-day trip, 23 more people, including a police constable, were killed Sunday when activists of the Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir and supporters of convicted leader clashed with police in five districts, taking the toll to over 60.
The violence also cast a shadow on the Indian president's visit with opposition leader and former prime minister Khaleda Zia, who was to meet Mukherjee Monday as planned earlier, called off the meeting, citing security concerns.
Sheikh Hasina called on the Indian president in the evening at Hotel Pan Pacific Sonargaon, where he is staying, and the two sides discussed the contentious Teesta water sharing issue and the land boundary agreement.
During their more than half an hour one-on-one talks, Mukherjee assured Hasina that India is committed to "a fair, reasonable solution" to the sharing of Teesta waters and that discussions with different stakeholders would be concluded "in as early a time frame as possible".
He also conveyed India's commitment to early ratification of the 1974 boundary treaty.
Khaleda Zia, who had met Mukherjee when she visited India in October last year, had agreed to meet the Indian president when the programme was chalked out earlier.
"We were looking forward to it... The reason to cancel the visit was given in an email citing the 'hartal' (shutdown) called between March 3 and 5. They said that experience shows that such hartals often turn violent thereby causing safety and security concerns on the movement of people and, therefore, the proposed meeting with the president would not be possible," Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai told media persons.
The Jamaat-e-Islami, which is part of Zia's 18-party Bangladesh Nationalist Party, has called a general strike March 3- 4, while the BNP has called a strike on March 5, coinciding with the president's visit.
While the Jamaat is protesting the conviction of its leader Delwar Hossain Sayedee for the 1971 war crimes, including rape and genocide, the BNP is protesting police action on protesters.
The streets of Dhaka are calm, but the visiting journalists have been advised not to venture out alone, but go in groups. The violence has mostly been concentrated in Hindu-dominated Noakhali and in Chittagong, said an official.
Mukherjee, on his first trip abroad as India's head of state, arrived in Dhaka Sunday and received by President Zillur Rahman at the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.
After landing at the airport, he flew in a chopper to the National Martyr's Memorial at Savar, around 30 km away. He laid a wreath on the memorial, planted a sapling and signed on the visitor's book.
In his message, the president said that the National Martyrs' Memorial "symbolizes Bangladesh's struggle for justice, emancipation and independence. It reminds us of the valiant sacrifices made by innumerable men, women and children who fought for their homeland - Sonar Bangla. I pay my deep respect and homage to all those martyrs."
The president is accompanied by his wife Suvra Mukherjee and an official delegation, including Minister of State for Railways Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai and four MPs.
During his visit, Mukherjee will Tuesday visit his "sasur bari" or in-laws' home in Narail district for the first time.
"Narail aamar sasur bari. (Narail is my in-laws' home)," Mukherjee told local channel ATN Bangla in an interview.
He is to visit Bhadrabila village, the ancestral home of his in-laws in Sadar sub-district of Narail, located 150 km from Dhaka. The president and his wife will fly to Narail by helicopter.