Bangladesh PM urges youth protesters to go home amid violence

A Bangladeshi protester hurling back a tear gas shell fired by the police during a student protest in Dhaka yesterday. Images of attacks on students have flooded social media, prompting renewed anger.
A Bangladeshi protester hurling back a tear gas shell fired by the police during a student protest in Dhaka yesterday. Images of attacks on students have flooded social media, prompting renewed anger.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

DHAKA • Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina yesterday urged students to go home as police fired tear gas during an eighth day of unprecedented protests over road safety which have paralysed parts of Dhaka.

Students in their tens of thousands have brought parts of the capital to a standstill after two teenagers were killed by a speeding bus.

The unrest quickly spread beyond the capital. The authorities have shut down mobile Internet services across swathes of the country, officials and local media said.

On Saturday, the protests took a violent turn in Dhaka's Jigatala neighbourhood, with more than 100 people injured as police fired rubber bullets at demonstrators.

A car carrying US Ambassador Marcia Bernicat was also attacked by "armed men" but she escaped unscathed, the embassy said.

The violence continued yesterday with police firing tear gas into a large crowd marching towards an office of the ruling Awami League party, an AFP correspondent said.

Ms Hasina yesterday warned that a "third party" could sabotage the protests and put the safety of demonstrators at risk.

"That's why I request all guardians and parents to keep their children at home. Whatever they have done is enough," the Prime Minister said from her office.

Some youngsters were rushed to hospital on Saturday after being attacked, allegedly by pro-government activists, witnesses said.

Ms Hasina's warning came as protesters marched towards the scene of Saturday's clashes chanting: "We want justice!"

Police denied they fired rubber bullets or tear gas at the protesters. However hospital staff said dozens of people had been injured, some seriously, and injuries were consistent with those caused by rubber bullets.

The Awami League has denied allegations that its officials beat up students.

On Saturday, the US ambassador's car was set upon by a mob.

"As she was leaving at about 11pm and getting into her car, a group attacked her car," said rights activist Badiul Alam Majumder, who was hosting the ambassador for dinner.

The US embassy confirmed an official vehicle "was attacked by a group of armed adult men" but the envoy and her team departed unharmed.

The country's biggest-circulation newspaper Prothom Alo said 3G and 4G Internet services had been shut down for 24 hours since late Saturday, shortly after the violence broke out. Social media has been filled with comments from Bangladeshis unable to access the Internet via their phones, although wireless and wired networks appeared to be unhindered.

A senior telecoms official who asked to remain anonymous said: "The (regulatory commission) has slowed down the Internet at the order of the government."

The move may be an attempt to try and limit the ability of students to mobilise or express growing online anger at how the government has handled the protests, hours after police and unidentified men wielding sticks and stones clashed with students.

Images of the attacks on students - allegedly by ruling party activists - have flooded social media, prompting renewed anger.

Bangladesh's transport sector is widely seen as corrupt, unregulated and dangerous. As news of the teenagers' traffic deaths spread rapidly on social media, they became a catalyst for an outpouring of anger against the government.

Bangladesh police yesterday began cracking down on dangerous driving. "Our police force has started a week-long drive to bring discipline on the roads," Ms Hasina said at an event in Dhaka yesterday.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2018, with the headline 'Bangladesh PM urges youth protesters to go home amid violence'. Print Edition | Subscribe