Pope begins key Bangladesh visit


Pope begins key Bangladesh visit

Image copyright EPA
Image caption The Pope will celebrate Mass in the capital, Dhaka, on Friday

Pope Francis has arrived in Bangladesh on a visit likely to be dominated by the issue of Muslim Rohingya refugees who have fled from Myanmar.

The Pope arrived from Myanmar, where he faced criticism from rights groups for not referring to Rohingya directly.

His speech on Thursday will again be keenly watched for its wording.

But he faces other issues, including increased attacks by radical Islamists on the small number of Bangladeshi Christians and other minority groups.

There are even fewer Catholics in Bangladesh than there are in Myanmar. They make up about 0.2% of the population, about 350,000 people, compared to about 600,000 in Myanmar.

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But the community has been targeted by Muslim extremists.

Just days before Francis's arrival, a priest disappeared from the same village that saw a Catholic hacked to death last year.

The priest, Walter William Rosario, had been organising a trip to the Pope's Mass in the capital, Dhaka, which takes place on Friday.

The Pope's schedule on Thursday takes him to a memorial for the Bangladesh war of independence in 1971, a meeting with the president and then a speech at the presidential palace.

The Vatican has defended Francis's avoidance of the word Rohingya while in Myanmar.

He had been warned by his Catholic representatives in the country not to use the term for fear of alienating the Buddhist majority.

Myanmar's government rejects the term Rohingya. It labels the community "Bengalis" and says they migrated illegally from Bangladesh.

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Media captionRohingya girls say they were forced into sex work in Bangladesh

More than 620,000 Rohingya have fled across the border since August amid a crackdown which Myanmar's government says was aimed at rooting out violent insurgents following deadly attacks on police posts by Rohingya militants.

The UN has described the crackdown in the state of Rakhine as "textbook ethnic cleansing".

A Vatican spokesman said that although its diplomacy was "not infallible", the Pope had lost no "moral authority" in his approach, which was intended to "build bridges" in Myanmar.

The spokesman, Greg Burke, said: "The fact that the Pope is here and draws attention to the country itself is an incredibly positive thing."

On Friday, the Pope is expected to meet a group of Rohingya refugees, as well as hold talks with Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina.

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