Students, journalists attacked in Dhaka road crash protests

Members of pro-government mob used bamboo sticks, iron rods and machetes in Bangladesh capital
Students, journalists attacked in Dhaka road crash protests

Students and journalists assaulted during Bangladesh student protests in Dhaka being taken to hospital on Aug. 5. (ucanews.com photo)

A pro-government mob has been accused of assaulting dozens of school students and journalists during road safety protests in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka on the weekend.

At least 50 people, mostly students and at least six journalists, were hurt when members of the Chhatra League — the student front of the ruling Awami League — attacked protest rallies being held in the city's center.

TV reports showed mobs of men armed men with bamboo sticks, iron rods and machetes attacking protesters and journalists.

Protesters have alleged that police looked on silently as they came under attack.

Riot police also used armored personnel carriers, batons and tear gas shells to break up thousands of protesters who occupied major streets in the city.

Police fire tear gas shell to break up student protests in Dhaka on Aug. 5. (ucanews.com photo)

 

The students took to the streets earlier last week calling on the government to overhaul road safety laws and to end corruption in the road transport sector.

The protests were sparked by the deaths of two students killed by a speeding bus.

Since then, Dhaka has seen students take over many of the city's streets, inspecting vehicle registrations and driving licenses including those of police. The protesters also forced police to file cases against drivers without licenses and driving unroadworthy vehicles.

Father James Mondol, a member of the Catholic Bishops' Justice and Peace Commission, condemned violence during the protests.

"We all know the road transport sector is full of irregularities, and the students' demands for change and road safety are legitimate. The government must listen to them for good," Father Modol told ucanews.com. "The violence against peaceful protesters is unacceptable and those responsible must be punished."

Attacks on journalists covering the protests have also been condemned, as has the police detaining photographer and social activist Shahidul Alam.

It is believed Alam, a dual citizen of Bangladesh and Britain, drew the government's ire over his support for the student protests and an interview with Al Jazeera criticizing government handling of the issue.

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Armed with crude weapons, activists of the ruling Awami League beat up a freelance journalist during Bangladesh student protests in Dhaka on Aug. 5. (ucanews.com photo)

 

The students' action gained much public support but was an embarrassment for law enforcement agencies and the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

In a televised speech on Aug. 5, Hasina called on the students to halt protests and return to their classes.

"A new law is underway to ensure road safety and punishment for road offenses, and it will be placed and passed in the parliament after due procedures are completed. I request you to leave the streets and go back to classes," Hasina said.

The Education Ministry closed down all education institutes in the country on Aug. 2, a move that was designed to diffuse student anger.

As protests escalated, the government shut down cellular phone internet services on Aug. 4-5 to restrict use of social media by students in organizing the protests.

Two of the country's largest road transport unions connected to ruling party leaders also attempted measures aimed at stifling the protests which backfired, providing further public support for the students' cause.

Students protest for the overhaul of road safety laws in Dhaka on Aug. 1. (ucanews.com photo)

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