August 26, 2009

RIP Senator Edward Moore "Ted" Kennedy

Yesterday Senator Edward Moore "Ted" Kennedy (February 22, 1932 – August 25, 2009), the second most senior member of the US Senate, died of cancer. Here is how Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina expressed her reaction:

The prime minister in her message recalled the unstinting support of the senator to the war of independence from Pakistan and his role in mobilising world opinion for Bangladesh.

"The people of Bangladesh will remember his contribution forever."

She said in his death Bangldesh lost a real friend.

In her condolence message, Khaleda Zia (the leader of the opposition) said, "The late senator was a humanist and democratic personality. The people of Bangladesh will remember him forever for the role he played in mobilising world opinion in favour of Bangladesh liberation war".

She sympathised with the members of the Kennedy family.

"The United States has lost a great leader in the death of Senator Kennedy and the people of Bangladesh have lost a real friend".


Here is a summary of what he did for Bangladesh in 1971 (Smithbarney at OpenSalon):

Bangladeshi refugees 1971-1972

After the invasion of East Pakistan (also called East Bengal, now called Bangladesh) by West Pakistani forces in the spring of 1971, some 9,000,000 refugees streamed across the border into India. The world and the United States (Nixon/Kissinger mired in Vietnam, famously "tilting" toward West Pakistan) took little note. All except the 39 year old senior senator from Massachusetts, Edward M. Kennedy.


In the brutal heat and monsoon muck of August, Senator Kennedy traveled to refugee camps throughout West Bengal (the neighboring Indian state) and reported back to the Senate in an extraordinarily passionate document (1) about the plight of the refugees in India and what he called the "reign of terror which grips East Bengal."

He concluded: "America's heavy support of Islamabad (West Pakistan) is nothing short of complicity in the human and political tragedy of East Bengal."

Kennedy not only bore witness, he jolted the world into taking notice and aiding the refugees if not the independence fighters in East Bengal.

Bangladesh gained its independence in December, 1971 after Pakistan was defeated in a short and brutally effective war by India. Senator Kennedy returned to India and now Bangladesh in February, 1972. The United States had so far refused to recognize the new nation (see Kissinger's extraordinary memo). Kennedy called for its recognition. He was lionized in Dhaka, the capital, with cries of "Joi Kennedy" (Hail, or literally, Victory to Kennedy) as well as in Calcutta, India, when he revisited the refugee camps.

Senator Kennedy has remained a steadfast friend of Bangladesh and India. In fact, there is a move to recognize him officially as a Bangladeshi hero, along with the late George Harrison, who had organized the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh, the archetype for such benefits in later years.

More readings:

* Senator Kennedy on the Bangladesh Genocide

* August 15, 1971: Statement by Senator Kennedy expressing his disappointment over the poor response of the international community on the Bangladesh problem.


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