Bangladesh started celebrating Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's birth centenary and the golden jubilee of the country's independence as the 10-day special programmes began in Dhaka on March 17.
Key streets and strategically important places and structures in Dhaka have been decorated with colorful festoons, flags and banners as part of the country's biggest ever celebrations in recent times.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and famous British journalist Sir Mark Tully sent pre-recorded video messages on the first day of the 10-day programme that will continue until March 26.
President Abdul Hamid, his wife Rashida Khanam, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her sister Sheikh Rehana joined the event, along with Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and his spouse Fazna Ahmed.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has said he will work with President Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to strengthen the complementarities between two development strategies, advance Belt and Road cooperation, and take the strategic partnership of cooperation to a new height.
"We must always remember what the elder generation of leaders did for the growth of China-Bangladesh relations, and shall pass on the baton of the China-Bangladesh friendship to future generations," he said.
In a pre-recorded speech and placing high importance on growing China's relations with Bangladesh, President Jinping wished Bangladesh prosperity and its people happiness. "May the China-Bangladesh friendship last from generation to generation!"
Devoted Whole Life to His Country, People
The Chinese President said fifty years ago, Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman founded the People's Republic of Bangladesh. "A man who devoted his whole life to his country and people, he is fondly remembered by the people in Bangladesh to this day."
He said the "Sonar Bangla" he envisioned is still galvanizing the 160 million Bangladeshi people in their pursuit of national rejuvenation.
The Chinese President said the principle of "friendship to all and malice towards none" he laid out remains the bedrock of Bangladesh's foreign policy.
"Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was an old and good friend of the Chinese people. On his two visits to China in 1952 and 1957, he forged friendships with Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai, and other Chinese leaders of the elder generation," he said.
As a Chinese saying goes, the Chinese President said, "Do not forget those who dug the well when drinking water from it."
Over the five decades of independence, he said, the people of Bangladesh have stayed true to their conviction and triumphed over challenges one after another.
Under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's leadership, President Jinping said, Bangladesh has focused on reform and development and entered a fast lane of growth.
"With a GDP growing more than six percent every year for a year running, Bangladesh has bettered the lives of its own people and made important contributions to poverty reduction in the world. As a friendly neighbor, China rejoices at a prosperous and progressing Bangladesh," he said.
President Jinping said China and Bangladesh have always been friendly neighbors, with the ancient Silk Road standing as a witness to a friendship that spans over the millennia.
Since China and Bangladesh established diplomatic ties 46 years ago, our two sides have treated each other with mutual respect and as equals, he said.
"The two countries have supported each other and made progress together. Today, both countries are at a crucial stage of revitalization and development. The Chinese dream of great national renewal can well connect with the "Sonar Bangla" dream," he said.
"During my visit to Bangladesh in 2016, Prime Minister Hasina and I upgraded the bilateral ties to a strategic partnership of cooperation. Bangladesh is the first South Asian country to have signed with China an intergovernmental document on Belt and Road cooperation," President Jinping said.
He said the practical cooperation has delivered real benefits to the people of both countries and since COVID-19 struck, the two countries have stood together during these trying times.
"China will not forget that at the height of its fight against the coronavirus, the Bangladeshi government and people donated a large quantity of medical supplies to China," he said.
The Chinese President said China, too, has done what it could to assist the COVID-19 response in Bangladesh.
"Despite the challenges caused by the pandemic, the two countries have continued to work together in Belt and Road cooperation. Key projects undertaken by Chinese companies, including the Padma Bridge and the Bangabandhu Tunnel under the Karnaphuli River, have seen big breakthroughs. As many as 97% of Bangladeshi products now enjoy duty-free access to China," he said.
Bangabandhu's Indomitable Spirit
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has said economic relations between Bangladesh and Japan, marked by a great potential, will make a further leap forward in the years to come as Bangladesh is an attractive destination for Japanese business community.
"Bangladesh, which is located at a key point connecting Southeast Asia and Indian subcontinent and has successfully been achieving high economic growth in recent years, is a very attractive destination for Japanese business community," said the Japanese Prime Minister.
Prime Minister Suga said 50 years ago, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, led Bangladesh to independence with his indomitable spirit.
"Japan was one of the first countries that recognized Bangladesh as a nation state right after its independence, and we had a privilege of welcoming Bangabandhu to Japan," he said.
During his stay in Japan, Suga said, Bangabandhu visited even farming and fishing villages in rural areas, where he interacted with many local Japanese citizens.
"He said he considered the development of Japan as a model to follow, and later he made tremendous efforts to strengthen bilateral ties. I understand that it was the idea of Bangabandhu himself to design the Bangladeshi national flag in a way that resembles the Japanese one, just like we are brothers," said the Japanese Prime Minister.
He said the year 2022 will mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and Bangladesh.
"I will join hands with Bangladesh and work together closely to further strengthen our bilateral relationship toward this special year," Suga said.
Japan and Bangladesh, both having nostalgic yet beautiful landscapes of paddy fields, have valued "heart-to-heart exchanges" and have developed profound interactions among citizens at grassroots level, Suga said.
Regarding the economic relations, Japan has consistently supported Bangladesh's efforts toward the realization of "Sonar Bangla" since its independence.
"Jamuna Multi-purpose Bridge, depicted in 100 taka banknote, and Sonargaon Hotel, built shortly after the independence, have been the symbols of our friendship for a long time," said the Japanese Prime Minister.
In recent years, he said, Japan has actively supported infrastructure development of Bangladesh, such as Dhaka MRT, Dhaka International Airport 3rd Terminal, and Matarbari Deep Sea Port for better regional connectivity, under "the Bay of Bengal Industrial Growth Belt (BIG-B)".
Moreover, Japan also attaches importance to Bangladesh's socio-economic development such as health and education and extends support meeting the needs of Bangladesh, said the Japanese Prime Minister.
"I am confident that Japan's cooperation in these areas will support Bangladesh's goal to be a middle income country and then become a developed country, and eventually contribute to further development of our relationship," Suga said.
The outbreak of COVID-19 has posed unprecedented challenges to socio-economic activities in the world and between our two countries.
In order to overcome this crisis together with Bangladesh, Suga said, Japan has provided emergency budget support loan, grant of medical equipment, and other emergency support through international organizations for Bangladesh.
He said the pandemic has also heightened uncertainty, and how they secure peace and stability of the region has become an increasingly important challenge.
"Building a free and open order based on the rule of law and strengthening connectivity in the Indo-Pacific region will lead to peace, stability and prosperity of the region. Japan will continue to work with Bangladesh to realize a Free and Open Indo-Pacific," Suga said.
On behalf of the Government and people of Japan, Suga offered his heartfelt congratulations on the 50th anniversary of the Independence of the People's Republic of Bangladesh, as well as the centennial birth anniversary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
"I express my sincere wishes for the prosperity of Bangladesh and Japan and further deepening of our friendship," he said.
Just as Japanese children tried hard and collected relief donations for Bangladesh in the aftermath of the cyclone at the time of its independence, Bangladesh offered to Japan in the form of relief funds and supplies when the Great East Japan Earthquake struck them 10 years ago, he recalled.
"Our traditional friendship is now tied with a strong and firm bond under the spirit of trust, cooperation, and mutual benefit," said the Japanese Prime Minister.
A Symbol of Democracy, Freedom
Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih said Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was a symbol of democracy and freedom, whose efforts were instrumental in securing an independent destiny for Bangladesh's people.
He said Bangabandhu would remain a source of inspiration for many generations to come.
The Maldivian president spoke as the guest of honour at the official ceremony marking the Birth Centenary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Solih said throughout his life, Bangabandhu was a firm advocate of democracy and political liberty and that he advocated those ideals which resonated with people from all walks of life.
Despite the tragic circumstances of his death, Bangabandhu would always have an honoured place in the hearts of those who yearn for democracy and freedom, the president added.
He shed light on Bangladesh's extraordinary work in uplifting the lives of its people and developing the nation.
The Maldivian leader expressed his heartfelt gratitude to the Bangladeshi government for the assistance it has provided to the Maldives.
He praised the welcome presence of a team of healthcare professionals from the Bangladesh Air Force. They have travelled to the Maldives twice to assist the country in curbing the spread of Covid-19.
Solih extended invitations to President Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to undertake a visit to the Maldives at an opportune time.
Bangabandhu Puts People First
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's vision became a reality because he put his people first. "And as we face some of the greatest challenges of our lifetime, we - as leaders and citizens - must do the same."
Justin Trudeau said it is a time for reflection and celebration and they reflect upon the legacy of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman - 100 years after his birth - and celebrate 50 years of independence. "And in so doing, we are reminded of the power that individuals bring to shape lasting change."
Together, the Canadian Prime Minister said, they can build a more resilient and better world for generations to come.
"I want to thank Prime Minister Sheik Hasina for the invitation and the opportunity to help mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. I also want to congratulate everyone on 50 years of an independent Bangladesh, something that we're able to celebrate today because of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's vision for an independent and democratic country - one that was built on his love for its people," he said.
The Canadian Prime Minister said he got the chance to first visit Bangladesh as a child in 1983 with his father Pierre Trudeau - who was prime minister of Canada then. "At that time, my father and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had already forged a strong relationship. And that was rooted in Canada's early support for an independent Bangladesh."
Since then, he said the two countries have maintained a lasting bond based on strong people-to-people ties and common interests. "But Bangladesh is much different today than when I first visited with my father.
Over the past 50 years, your country has made incredible progress," he observed.
The Canadian Prime Minister said Bangladesh has spurred economic growth, reduced poverty, increased access to education and health resources, and have built new opportunities for its people.
"Bangladesh has gone through a remarkable economic and social transformation, and Canada has been here as a partner every step of the way," he said.
The Canadian Prime Minister said they have contributed to Bangladesh's growth and supported key areas of development, including women's economic empowerment, skills for youth, and children's health and education. "We are committed to continuing that work."
He said the two countries will work together to help meet the needs of the world's most vulnerable and to face the challenges of today and tomorrow.
That includes dealing with the health and economic impacts of the global covid-19 pandemic, making sure that everyone has access to a safe and effective vaccine, and continuing to work alongside one another to fight climate change, advance peacekeeping, support the rights of women and girls, and build a better world for everyone, he said.
Meanwhile, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has described Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as a champion of human rights and freedom.
"My heartfelt homage to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, a champion of human rights and freedom, on his birth anniversary," Modi tweeted noting that Bangabandhu is a hero for all Indians, too.
"It will be my honour to visit Bangladesh later this month for the historic Mujib Borsho celebrations," said the Indian Prime Minister.
On the occasion of 50th anniversary of Bangladesh Independence and in honor of the birth centenary of Bangabandhu, during the visit of Modi, India will donate 109 ambulances to Bangladesh.
Sylhet will get four of them, disclosed Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Vikram Kumar Doraiswami when he met Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dr A K Abdul Momen on Tuesday.
Indian External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar has also paid homage to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
"His (Bangabandhu's) ideals continue to inspire millions across the world. India is proud to celebrate his legacy jointly with Bangladesh in this historic Mujib Borsho," Jaishankar tweeted.
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