Bangladesh: Armed men attack US ambassador's car amid protests

Ambassador Marcia Bernicat and her security team were unharmed but two cars belonging to her convoy were damaged. The incident took place amid protests for better road safety after two students were killed by a bus.

Armed men attacked a convoy of cars carrying the US ambassador to Bangladesh in Dhaka on Saturday, US embassy said in a statement on Facebook.

Ambassador Marcia Bernicat and her security team managed to leave the area unharmed, the statement said, adding that two security vehicles were damaged.

The incident comes amid protests by students against lax road safety rules in the country.

On Saturday, Bangladeshi police fired tear gas at crowds of students occupying an intersection in the center of Dhaka.

"It was a peaceful rally, but suddenly police fired tear gas shells aimed at us that left several injured," Mohammad Atikur Rahman, one of the protesters, told the Deutsche Presse-Agentur news agency.

A number of journalists were reportedly also beaten, with members of the ruling Awami League party taking away their cameras.

Read more: Is Bangladesh's media freedom deteriorating?

Growing anger

The protests began after two teenage students were run over and killed by a bus speeding down Dhaka's Airport Road on July 29. Since then, thousands of students have taken to the streets, with some even controlling traffic.

More than 100 people were injured in clashes with police in the Jigatala neighborhood on Saturday, with witnesses saying that officers had fired rubber bullets and tear gas at demonstrators.

They also reported that alleged pro-government activists had attacked protesting students.

The Awami League has denied allegations that its supporters had inflicted violence on the protesters.

Read more: Declining terror attacks: Why Bangladesh can't afford to be complacent

Student deaths spark massive protests in Bangladesh

A massive outpouring of anger

Bangladesh has witnessed massive student protests over the past several days, after two teenagers were killed by a speeding bus in the capital Dhaka on July 29. The demonstrators, mostly students in their mid-teens, blame the government for failing to enforce traffic laws. On Thursday, some students even took matters into their own hands and began enforcing rules and regulations.

Student deaths spark massive protests in Bangladesh

Student demands

The protesters have put forward a set of demands for the government. They include strict enforcement of traffic laws, ensuring safe roads and eradicating corruption in the transport sector. Furthermore, they call for harsh punishments for traffic violators, including the death penalty for reckless drivers.

Student deaths spark massive protests in Bangladesh

Tense situation

On Thursday, Bangladesh's education ministry shut down high schools and colleges in an effort to quell the unrest. The government also promised students their demands for reforms to road safety would be considered. Still, the anger hasn't subdued. In Dhaka, students were seen attempting to bring traffic discipline by checking drivers' registration papers and driving licenses.

Student deaths spark massive protests in Bangladesh

'We Want Justice'

Authorities have pleaded with students to call off the protests that have nearly paralyzed Dhaka and spread beyond the capital. But they have had little success so far as the demonstrators refuse to give up their protest. Chanting "we want justice," the protesters on Thursday even defied pouring rain to march in Dhaka.

Student deaths spark massive protests in Bangladesh

Beatings and vandalism

In some places, there have been clashes between the protesters and police. Videos circulated on social media show the police beating up students in an effort to clear the blockaded roads. Authorities say more than 300 vehicles have been vandalized since the protests started.

Student deaths spark massive protests in Bangladesh

Security before digitization

The students say ensuring safe roads in the country should be a higher priority for the Bangladeshi government than digitizing the nation. They argue that internet connectivity and digitization are of little use if the government is unable to ensure security on the country's roads.

Student deaths spark massive protests in Bangladesh

Empty highways

Meanwhile, not everyone seems to be happy with the students' action. Bangladesh's transport workers on Thursday stopped operating bus services across the country and demanded security from the student protesters. They also staged a demonstration at the Gabtoli Bus Terminal in Dhaka.

High road toll

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Sunday urged the protesters to go home, and authorities have reportedly shut down mobile internet services in much of the country in an apparent bid to slow down protest mobilization and the spread of material that could cause further public outrage.

According to police, some 3,000 people are killed every year on Bangladesh's roads. But that figure is disputed by the private organization Bangladesh Commuters' Welfare Association, which says at least 7,397 people were killed in road accidents last year.

The protests over Bangladesh's transport regulations, which are widely seen as lax and corrupt, are also feeding into more general anger at the government's management of the country.

Recent months have also seen mass protests against a decades-old system of discriminatory civil service recruitment.

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01:46 mins.
Asia | 03.08.2018

Bangladeshi school students take control of Dhaka streets

ap, tj/jlw (dpa, AFP)

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