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Fifty-one years on, Bangladesh celebrates a glorious victory -and remembers tragic events

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Bangladesh’s Victory Day, the anniversary of the Pakistan Army’s surrender to the newly independent nation and its Indian ally, has been celebrated in Brussels by the country’s Embassy to the European Union. 16 December 1971 was a day of triumph but it came after nine months of tragic loss and numerous atrocities, writes Political Editor Nick Powell.

The Bangladeshi Ambassador, Mahbub Hassan Saleh, addressed an audience at the Brussels Press Club drawn from the diplomatic community, EU institutions, think tanks, media and members of the Bangladeshi community in Belgium. He paid his deepest homage to the Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the three million dead who were martyred in the Liberation War and the two hundred thousand women whose fight for freedom lead to them being despicably violated by the Pakistan military and its collaborators.

He recalled the contribution of the international community, particularly the extraordinary support of India, in the War of Liberation of Bangladesh. He spoke of the historic journey of struggle, courage, perseverance and patience taken by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in leading his country to freedom -a journey taken up by his daughter, now Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina.

There was a special screening of the docu-film Hasina: A Daughter’s Tale, which tells the story of the struggle by the Prime Minister and her sister, Sheikh Rehana, after their father and all the other members of their family were brutally murdered in a military coup on 15 August 1975. The product of five years of research and effort, the film presents the previously untold story of what Sheikh Hasina experienced, not as a politician but as a human being.

It shows her journey from that act of terrorism to her triumph as a political leader, achieving Bangabandhu’s dream of building ‘Sonar Bangla’ (‘Golden Bengal’). In his speech, the Ambassador described his country’s position of pride in the world today. He highlighted how humanity and the pursuit of peace guide the foreign policy of Bangladesh, which is temporarily sheltering more than 1.1 million Rohingyas forcibly displaced from Myanmar.

India’s Ambassador, Santosh Jha, spoke of how the friendship of the two countries had stood the test of time. He described Bangladesh as India’s friendliest neighbour, with a friendship built on a bedrock of blood, sweat, tears and toil. Their historic and monumental victory came with great sacrifice, still not sufficiently recognised by the rest of the world.

The Bhutanese Chargé d’Affaires, Dechen Wangmo, referred to how both her country and Bangladesh were about to graduate from their status as least developed countries. From the European External Action Service, the Deputy Head of the South Asia Division, Monika Bylaite, called Bangladesh a strategic and increasingly influential player in the Indo-Pacific region, where it is an important partner of the EU on security, trade and climate change.

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Earlier, the day had been marked at the Bangladeshi Embassy with the hoisting of the national flag by the Ambassador, the placing of a floral wreath at the portrait of Bangabandhu and the reading out of messages from the President, Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and State Minister for Foreign Affairs.

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