Clinton's Asian visit gets off to rocky start

Secret Service cancels trip to poor village

March 20, 2000|By Cox News Service

NEW DELHI, India -- President Clinton's weeklong swing through India, Bangladesh and Pakistan got off to a sour start yesterday when security risks forced him to scrub a planned visit to a village in Bangladesh.

The stop at Joypura, where Clinton had hoped to visit with villagers benefiting from U.S. assistance in health, education and development programs, was to have been the centerpiece of the president's program for today.

Last night, though, two hours after Clinton arrived in New Delhi, White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said in a prepared statement that the president would not be going to Joypura, an impoverished hamlet 20 miles outside of the capital city of Dhaka, "because of concerns raised by the Secret Service."

It was a rocky start for Clinton's visit, the first by a U.S. president to the Indian subcontinent since Jimmy Carter's trip to India in 1978.

Clinton was still planning to go to Dhaka to meet with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, becoming the first U.S. president to visit Bangladesh since the country of 128 million won its independence from Pakistan in 1971.

White House officials declined to elaborate on the cancellation. Scrapping a scheduled stop, though, is unusual. As a matter of practice, Secret Service agents preview prospective sites of presidential visits well in advance of the actual visit.

Bangladesh, a deeply impoverished and overwhelmingly Islamic country, is troubled with a high level of politically motivated violence, including bombings and assassinations.

Clinton arrived here last night on the first leg of his tour of the Indian subcontinent, hoping to defuse regional tensions and tamp down a dangerous nuclear arms race.

With daughter Chelsea holding onto his left arm, Clinton stepped out of Air Force One and waved, as workers scrambled to finish painting walls and repairing pock-marked roads.

His wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, engaged in a tight U.S. Senate race in New York, is not on the trip. But her mother, Dorothy Rodham, is.

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