DHAKA, Bangladesh - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged Bangladesh's feuding political leaders Saturday to work together and end their most recent bout of discord for the good of their impoverished country.
Clinton said weeks of strikes and protests that have paralyzed the country and killed at least five people had undermined development and scared off foreign investors. The actions stem from the disappearance of an opposition leader last month.
She appealed to Bangladeshis to respect the rule of law and called for a robust government investigation of the missing politician and allegations by the opposition of a brutal crackdown on dissent.
"Violent demonstrations . . . exact a heavy toll, especially on Bangladesh's poorest and most vulnerable citizens," Clinton said. "They also send a negative signal to the international community about the investment climate here.
"We strongly urge all sides to settle differences through constructive political dialogue," Clinton told reporters at a news conference with Foreign Minister Dipu Moni.
Clinton visited the country as first lady with her daughter, Chelsea, in 1995 and later worked with New York's Bangaldeshi community as a U.S. senator. She said she felt strongly about the country's success. "This is personal for me," she said.
In recent weeks, the situation in the capital has grown increasingly tense. General strikes have brought the country to a standstill, leading to the arrest of dozens of opposition activists, and homemade bombs have exploded across the city.
The latest anger erupted in the streets after an opposition party leader, Elias Ali, went missing along with his driver April 17 from a street in Dhaka. His car was found later abandoned.
In advance of Clinton's visit, the first from a U.S. secretary of state to Dhaka since 2003, the opposition suspended protests in a goodwill gesture that reflects the importance Bangladeshis place on relations with the United States, one of their largest trading partners.
In talks with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, opposition leader Khaleda Zia, and civic leaders, Clinton stressed the importance of inclusive democracy and unity to improve living conditions in the country of 160 million, which the United States sees as a potentially important voice for moderation among Muslim majority nations.