Police in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, fired tear gas and used batons on Saturday to disperse hundreds of student protesters angered by the traffic deaths of two fellow students.
Witnesses and local media reports said chaos broke out as police and government officials swooped in on the students, leaving many injured. A top leader of the ruling party Awami League said some “criminals” wearing school uniforms joined the violence.
Many protesters blamed the student wing of the ruling party for the attacks. Television stations aired footage of the clashes, with protesters throwing stones at police.
The city was largely cut off from the rest of Bangladesh as bus companies refused to enter the area from other parts of the country. Buses are key to transportation in Bangladesh, where trains are overcrowded and most people cannot afford cars.
The owners and workers of the bus companies said they will not operate their vehicles unless their safety was ensured after dozens of vehicles were either vandalized or torched in Dhaka and elsewhere since the protests began last weekend.
An Associated Press journalist at the scene said many people, including some journalists, were injured in the clashes. The English-language Daily Star newspaper reported that up to 25 people were injured, but other outlets put the estimates higher.
The protests began last Sunday after two college students were struck and killed by a pair of buses. The have paralyzed Dhaka, a city of 10 million. The two buses were reportedly racing to collect passengers at the time of the deaths, a common occurrence in a city regularly gridlocked.
The protests are an embarrassment for the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ahead of a general election set for December. Mr. Hasina’s party is blaming the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, headed by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and its main ally Jamaat-e-Islami, for using the student protests for political gains.
Mr. Zia’s party formally extended its support to the protesters. Mr. Hasina has also said the protester’s demands are justified and pledged to fulfill them in phases.
The protesters are demanding safer roads in Bangladesh, where corruption is rife and unlicensed drivers and unregistered vehicles are common on the roads. At least 12,000 people die each year in road accidents in the country, often blamed on faulty vehicles, reckless driving and lax traffic enforcement.
The students have stopped thousands of vehicles — including those of top officials and judges — demanding to see if the cars were registered and the drivers licensed.
Orignially published in NYT.