President Obama Hosts Fourth Annual Iftar Dinner at the White House

President Barack Obama delivers remarks during the Iftar Dinner in the State Dining Room of the White House, Aug. 10, 2012

President Obama hosted his fourth Iftar dinner as President in the State Dining Room of the White House. The Iftar is the meal that breaks the day of fasting during Ramadan, when Muslim families and communities eat together after sunset.

During his remarks at the dinner, the President reflected on the importance of religious freedom and the important role Muslims have played throughout our country’s history.

Of all the freedoms we cherish as Americans, of all the rights that we hold sacred, foremost among them is freedom of religion, the right to worship as we choose. It’s enshrined in the First Amendment of our Constitution — the law of the land, always and forever. It beats in our heart — in the soul of the people who know that our liberty and our equality is endowed by our Creator. And it runs through the history of this house, a place where Americans of many faiths can come together and celebrate their holiest of days — and that includes Ramadan.
As I’ve noted before, Thomas Jefferson once held a sunset dinner here with an envoy from Tunisia — perhaps the first Iftar at the White House, more than 200 years ago. And some of you, as you arrived tonight, may have seen our special display, courtesy of our friends at the Library of Congress — the Koran that belonged to Thomas Jefferson. And that’s a reminder, along with the generations of patriotic Muslims in America, that Islam — like so many faiths — is part of our national story.

Statement by the President on the Occasion of Ramadan.

On behalf of the American people, Michelle and I extend our warmest wishes to Muslim Americans and Muslims around the world at the start of Ramadan. For Muslims, Ramadan is a time of fasting, prayer, and reflection; a time of joy and celebration. It’s a time to cherish family, friends, and neighbors, and to help those in need.

This year, Ramadan holds special meaning for those citizens in the Middle East and North Africa who are courageously achieving democracy and self-determination and for those who are still struggling to achieve their universal rights. The United States continues to stand with those who seek the chance to decide their own destiny, to live free from fear and violence, and to practice their faith freely. Here in the United States, Ramadan reminds us that Islam is part of the fabric of our Nation, and that—from public service to business, from healthcare and science to the arts—Muslim Americans help strengthen our country and enrich our lives.

Even as Ramadan holds profound meaning for the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims, it is also a reminder to people of all faiths of our common humanity and the commitment to justice, equality, and compassion shared by all great faiths. In that spirit, I wish Muslims across America and around the world a blessed month, and I look forward to again hosting an iftar dinner here at the White House. Ramadan Kareem.

Bangladesh-Russia nuclear power plant deal finalised

Bangladesh and Russia have finalised the financing agreement for Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant.
A delegation led by the Economic Adviser went to Moscow on Aug 4 and negotiated with acting Russian Finance Minister to finalise the deal.
The team included State Minister for Science and Technology Yeafesh Osman, Board of Investment Executive Chairman SA Samad and representatives from ministries of finance, foreign and law, ERD, Planning Commission and Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission.
Under the deal Bangladesh would borrow $500 million for the technical study with an interest rate of not less than 4 per cent from Russia.
The $500 million would be spent in the next two years for technical study, which would determine how much money would be needed to develop the plant, sources said.
Russia would provide necessary fund for constructing the plant
The government is going to build two nuclear plants with capacity of 1000-megawatt each at Rooppur with latest ‘third generation’ technology from Russia where five-layer security measures would be installed, according to officials.
It takes about $1.5 billion to $2 billion to set up 1000-megawatt (MW) power plant depending on security features and technology standards.
Bangladesh signed the final cooperation agreement with Rosatom of Russian Federation to build the plant in November last year.
Under the cooperation agreement, the Russian government would provide all necessary support and infrastructure development to build the plant and supply necessary fuel to run the plant and also take back the spent fuel.

Bangladesh’s indigenous people face extinction, warns leader

Indigenous people in Bangladesh could become extinct within the next few decades if their deprivation of rights continues as it had in the past, a top leader of the country’s indigenous groups said yesterday.

“There is regular bloodshed in the hills; its extent might go up. Either the peace accord in the hills will be implemented or the jumma people will be extinct,” Jyotirindra Bodhipriya Larma, chairman of Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council, told a discussion in Bangladesh capital, Dhaka.

Ten rights bodies jointly hosted the event on the theme of land and human rights of indigenous people ahead of International Day of the World’s Indigenous People tomorrow.

While in power, the present ruling party had signed the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) Peace Accord in 1997; but today it lacks goodwill in implementing the deal, said Jyotirindra, popularly known as Santu Larma.

Both the civil and military bureaucracy, he complained, have demonstrated an undemocratic and communal attitude towards the indigenous people, whose land was grabbed by the social and political elites for decades.

“Now we are termed ethnic minorities and tribes, and barred from observing the indigenous peoples’ day. This is ridiculous…I see dark days ahead.”

Santu Larma, also president of Parbatya Chattagram Janasanghati Samity, urged indigenous people to get united for any kind of movement if they are to sustain their existence.

In his keynote, Prof Abul Barkat of Dhaka University said 22 per cent indigenous people had either been evicted or driven out of their households between 1977 and 2007 mainly by Bangalee settlers in the CHT.

Their traditional social ownership of land came down from 83 per cent in 1978 to 41 per cent in 2009, he added.

On the other hand, 90 per cent of indigenous people of the plains have become landless, mentioned Barkat. He added that the rate of poverty among the indigenous people is much higher than the average national rate of poverty.

“In the last three decades, the number of Bangalee settlers in the hills has gone up, but the number of indigenous people has come down.”

He suggested implementing the CHT peace accord, punishing the land grabbers, forming a separate land commission for the plain land advices and recognizing their traditional land ownership arrangement.

Rashed Khan Menon, chairman of the parliamentary caucus on indigenous people, demanded withdrawal of the government’s restriction on observing of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People.

Lawmakers Hasanul Huq Inu, A.K.M. Mozammel Haque, rights activists Sanjeeb Drong, Anna Minz, Syeda Rizwana Hasan, Sara Hossain, Rana Das Gupta and Khushi Kabir, addressed the discussion, moderated by Ain O Salish Kendra Executive Director Sultana Kamal.

Bangladesh’s ship breaking industry picks up pace again

There is a constant clanking of metals as hundreds of workers keep stripping iron plates and waste metal from broken ships. Trucks are lined up to carry the scrap metal to the local market.

Huge gas cylinders, giant propellers and engines are strewn across the mud and the smell of oil and metal permeates the air.

A huge oil tanker has been beached a few hundred metres away.

As you approach, you are overwhelmed by the enormity of the ship. But the 190-metre long iron monster will be reduced to a heap of scrap metal in a few months by the workers.

‘Back on track’
Bangladesh’s ship-breaking industry was the world’s largest until 2009 when various legal campaigns by environmental groups almost shut down the sector.

The ship-breaking sector is vital to our economy as it supplies the much-needed steel and iron to our domestic market”

Dilip Barua
Industries Minister, Bangladesh
At the peak of their business a few years ago, shipyards in Sitakunda, described as the graveyard of ships, dismantled more than 200 ships a year.

In 2010, due to court restrictions only 19 vessels were broken.

However, last year, courts lifted the ban on the import of ships until government ministries formulate detailed guidelines for the ship-breaking sector. That has seen business pick up pace again, with 150 ships dismantled in 2011.

Officials say 143 ships have already been broken in the first six months of 2012.

“The business is back on track and we are expecting more ships,” Mr Alam says pointing to a pile of stripped steel from the ships.

‘Vital to our economy’
The industry is worth around $1bn (£640m) and shipyard-owners say the sector employs nearly 200,000 workers.

Ship-breaking yard owners claim they provide nearly 60% of the country’s total steel demand.

With the boom in the construction sector in the country, there is a growing demand for iron and steel. They say the steel from the dismantled ships is also used by the country’s ship-building industry.

Some critics have cited concerns over the working conditions and safety of workers at the shipyards
Hence they say, the more ships they can break, the better it will be for the steel supply.

The industry is hoping to extract around three million tonnes of steel from the broken ships by the end of this year.

“The ship-breaking sector is vital to our economy as it supplies the much-needed steel and iron to our domestic market,” Dilip Barua, the Bangladesh Industries Minister says.

“As we don’t have any iron mine resources, ship-breaking is essential to boost our economic growth.”

Shipyard owners argue that apart from contributing steel to the domestic industry, many parts of a ship such as propellers, generators and engines are reused or recycled.

Environmental concerns
Environmental groups argue that many of these ageing ships are not cleaned properly before they are brought to the shores.

They say many of these vessels contain hazardous materials like asbestos and toxic chemicals.

Over the years, we have improved safety standards for our workers. We are also conscious of the environment”

Hefazutur Rahman
Bangladesh Ship Breaking Association
Campaigners claim that dozens of workers are killed in Bangladesh every year mostly due to gas explosions on ships they are breaking or due to other accidents at the yards.

They say the workers are not getting paid enough either. On average, workers earn around $150 a month.

“The ship-breaking industry is not doing any good for our country. The environmental damage to the area has been immense,” says Syeda Rizwana Hasan, a leading environmental campaigner.

“As far as we know, they haven’t done any improvement in the working conditions.”

She also disputes the industry’s claim that it had been supplying nearly 60% of the country’s steel demand.

Shipyard-owners say the industry has been gradually evolving.

“Over the years, we have improved safety standards for our workers. We are also conscious of the environment,” says Hefazutur Rahman, President of the Bangladesh Ship Breaking Association.

“The situation is different from what it was a few years back.”

Strong growth
Despite objections by environmentalists, more ships are expected to be brought to countries like Bangladesh, as it’s too expensive to get rid of unwanted vessels in developed countries.

Bangladesh’s unique geography is also another reason why ageing ships are taken to the beaches there.

The unique tide pattern makes it easy to ground the ship during occasional tides.

The other leading countries in the ship-breaking business are India, Pakistan, Turkey and China. With their abundance of cheap labour, these countries control the global ship-breaking sector.

And with the entire fleet of single-hulled oil tankers around the globe scheduled to be scrapped by 2026, ship-breaking yards in Bangladesh are likely to be busy for the coming years.