Seven burnt to death after bus firebombed in Bangladesh

Shop owners and business association representatives form a human chain to protest against the blockades during a country wide strike in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Feb 2, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA
Shop owners and business association representatives form a human chain to protest against the blockades during a country wide strike in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Feb 2, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA

DHAKA (AFP) - Suspected anti-government protesters threw a petrol bomb at a bus full of sleeping passengers in Bangladesh Tuesday, leaving seven people dead and several others fighting for life as deadly political unrest deepens.

Police said the bus was attacked near the eastern town of Chuddogram. The deaths brought the number of people killed in protests unleashed by opposition leader Khaleda Zia last month to 53, with hundreds more injured - most in firebombings of buses, lorries and cars.

"Seven passengers were burnt to death in the bus after the petrol bomb was thrown at 4am (4 am Singapore time Monday)," district police chief Tuttul Chakrabarty told AFP by phone. "Five of the passengers are fighting for their life as 40-80 per cent of their bodies were burnt. They have been shifted to a hospital in the capital," he said.

At least 10 people were also injured after they jumped from the bus's windows, trying to escape the blaze, he added.

Police Inspector Mahfuzur Rahman told AFP that authorities have raided villages near where the attack took place, but no arrests have been made.

Ms Zia urged supporters last month to enforce a nationwide blockade of roads, railways and waterways to try to force Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to call a fresh general election. The opposition boycotted the last poll in January 2014 on the grounds it was rigged.

The boycott meant most members of the 300-seat parliament were returned unopposed, handing Ms Hasina another five years in power.

The protests have triggered widespread violence across the impoverished nation. More than 800 vehicles have been torched or damaged, bringing inter-city transport services almost ground to a halt.

Survivors of Tuesday’s attack said the bus was packed with local tourists returning overnight from the resort town of Cox’s Bazaar to the capital Dhaka.  

“I woke up hearing loud cries and saw people burning in the bus. I jumped through the window and found a friend in flames. I doused the fire but his condition is critical,” one survivor told private Ekattur TV.  

Up to 15 people were also slightly injured after they jumped from the vehicle’s windows, trying to escape the blaze, the police chief added.  

Police inspector Mahfuzur Rahman told AFP authorities suspected BNP activists were behind the petrol bomb. Raids were carried out on local villages near the location of the attack, but no arrests were made.  

In another attack on Tuesday, four people suffered burn injuries after a petrol bomb was thrown at a moving train outside Dhaka, police said.  Hundreds of people have been injured since the protests started, while local media say more than 850 vehicles have been torched or damaged and inter-city transport services have ground to a halt.  

Security forces have launched a nationwide crackdown – but the arrest of more than 10,000 opposition supporters appears to have done little to quell the unrest.