Bangladesh opposition strike leaves 22 dead
Wave of violence meets election date announcement
A vehicle set alight by protesters burns during opposition protests in Dhaka (photo by Stephan Uttom)
At least 22 people have been killed and scores injured across Bangladesh in the past week during violent protests against government plans to hold a general election in early January.
The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led opposition alliance called a 48-hour nationwide transport strike on Monday, immediately after Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmed announced January 5 as the poll date. The strike was later extended by an extra day and ended early on Friday.
The opposition is demanding that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government resign so a non-partisan caretaker administration can oversee the election. Hasina denies claims that she might rig the elections if she stays in office.
The protests saw widespread violence, with activists from the BNP and its hard-line Islamist ally Jamaat-e-Islami using homemade bombs, smashing and setting alight scores of vehicles, and battling security forces.
Protesters also removed railways tracks along some routes, resulting in several train derailments.
In Dhaka, a teenage student died and 18 passengers were seriously burnt on Thursday when protesters set fire to a bus.
“The injured have 10-60 percent burns and are still in critical condition,” Dr Samanta Lal Sen, head of the burns unit at Dhaka Medical College Hospital said on Friday.
State Minister for Home Affairs Shamshul Haque accused opposition supporters of being behind the “heinous attack”.
“Those who kill people by setting them alight are not human beings. We will find out the culprits behind the crime as soon as possible and hand down severe punishments,” said the minister while visiting the injured on Thursday evening.
Hindu communities have also been attacked since Tuesday in several districts.
A woman and her two children were killed after their house was set ablaze on Tuesday night in Fatikchhari, Chittagong district, a local police official said.
Hindus, Bangladesh's largest minority group, have traditionally supported the ruling Awami League, a semi-secular party.
BNP acting secretary-general Mirza Fakhrul Islam blamed the Awami League for the violence.
“The government is using law enforcement agencies and its supporters to crack down violently on spontaneous public protests and to kill opposition supporters,” Islam said in a statement.
BNP and Jamaat supporters were also accused of vandalizing local government buildings, including election commission offices.
Bangladesh’s political history is marred by political rivalry and military intervention. Since 1975, the country has experienced 21 military coups and 15 years of military rule.
The dispute over how the country is governed over an election period has seen more than 50 people killed in a series of protests over the last month.
Analysts fear the current political chaos could lead to further radicalization in the South Asian country and another possible military coup.
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