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Bangladesh vows strict laws amid road crash protest

Angry students take to Dhaka's streets against lax traffic rules after 2 people mown down by bus

Bangladesh vows strict laws amid road crash protest

Students in Dhaka block a road on Aug. 1 to demand justice for two students killed in a road crash on July 29. (Photo by Stephan Uttom/ucanews.com)

Bangladesh is to enact a new strict road safety law to ensure speedy trials and punishments for road crash deaths caused by reckless driving.

The move comes amid ongoing violent protests that include students from church-run schools and colleges over the deaths of two students in a road crash.

Law Minister Anisul Huq said a new law to ensure justice in road crash death cases is in the works.

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The draft of the Road Transport Authority Bill will be tabled at the next cabinet meeting for approval, Huq was quoted as saying by English daily The Daily Star on Aug. 1.

The new law will have "adequate punishments" for traffic offenses, he said.

The protest began on July 29 after a speeding bus slammed into pedestrians while trying to overtake another bus in Dhaka.  

The accident killed Diya Khanam Mim, 17 and Abdul Karim Rajib, 18 — students of the Shaheed Ramiz Uddin Cantonment College — and injured about a dozen, sparking public outrage that sent thousands of angry students onto Dhaka's streets to protest.

Chanting slogans with placards saying "We Want Justice," the protesters have blocked roads and stopped vehicles, halting public transportation across the city for three days.

Protesters were also demanding the death penalty for the "killer [bus] driver" and a strict road safety law to curb traffic accidents.

"We just want justice, we don't want to see our brothers and sisters face such tragic deaths. Reckless driving, often by drivers without a license put people's lives on the line. We demand a complete stop to this malpractice, and a strict road safety law," said Bashir Ahmed, 18, a student at the church-run St. Joseph's School and College told ucanews.com on Aug. 1.

The protests have turned violent with some protesters clashing with police and setting vehicles on fire.

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said the government would pay heed to the students' demands.

"We are saddened by the accident…. We assure you that those responsible for road crash deaths will get due punishment according to law," Khan told reporters on Aug. 1.

According to Holy Cross Father Liton Hubert Gomes, convener of the Justice and Peace Commission in Dhaka Archdiocese, the protest reflects long-running public dismay over road transport.

"The protest … has turned into a voluntary social movement. For too long people have been frustrated over corruption within road regulatory bodies that has allowed unfit vehicles to ply roads and people to drive without licenses, that have led to accidents and deaths, he said.

"The time has come for change and the government must act quickly and impartially," added Father Gomes, who is also a lecturer at church-run Notre Dame College in Dhaka

Since 1998, more than 45,000 people have been killed in traffic accidents in Bangladesh, according to the Accident Research Institute of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.

Watch raw video footage below of the protests taken by a ucanews.com reporter.

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