Dhaka (Bangladesh) , Aug 6 : Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina urged students on to go home as police fired tear gas during an eighth day of unprecedented protests over road safety which have paralysed parts of Dhaka.
The protest by school students has blocked major intersections and compelled bus operators to suspend services in the Bangladesh capital. It started when two teenagers died after being hit by buses racing with each other to pick up passengers.
“We are now worried about your security as the perpetrators of arson attacks (in 2014-15) may stage sabotages… a quarter is out to catch fish in troubled waters,” the state-run BSS news agency quoted Hasina as saying.
Spontaneous student protests are rare in Bangladesh, and the Prime Minister suggested her political rivals were using the issue to stir up anti-government sentiment ahead of a general election this year. The Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party has denied involvement in the protests.
Non-student “saboteurs” were using school uniforms and ID cards, the Prime Minister said. “That’s why I request all guardians and parents to keep their children at home. Whatever they have done is enough,” she added.
Violence erupted in parts of the city on Sunday as transport workers, who have gone on a virtual shutdown for eight days, took to the streets and clashed with the protesters.
Police use batons and tear-gas canisters to disperse the crowds. More than 100 people were injured as police fired rubber bullets at demonstrators marching toward an office of the ruling Awami League party.
The police denied they fired rubber bullets or tear gas at the protesters. However, hospital staff said dozens of people had been injured, some seriously, and injuries were consistent with rubber bullets
The US embassy criticised the crackdown on protesters who it said had “united and captured the imagination of the whole country”.
The embassy tweeted that while it did not condone property damage by some of the protesters: “Nothing can justify the brutal attacks and violence over the weekend against the thousands of young people who have been peacefully exercising their democratic rights in supporting a safer Bangladesh.”
More than 4,200 pedestrians were killed in road accidents in Bangladesh in 2017, a 25 per cent increase from 2016, according to the National Committee to Protect Shipping, Roads and Railways, a private research group.
In response to the unrest, the government launched a week-long drive to check vehicle certificates in a bid to improve traffic safety, but said it would not tolerate more disruption by the protesters.
“Everything has an optimum point, and if anyone crosses the limit, action will be taken… so don’t cross the limit,” home affairs minister Asaduzzaman Khan said.
With PTI, Reuters inputs
Image : AFP