By Ruma Paul
At least nine people, including two children, were burned alive in Bangladesh when opposition activists hurled petrol bombs at a packed bus and a truck in the latest spasm of worsening political violence, police said on Saturday.
The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) refused to take part in a general election a year ago, saying it would be rigged, and intensified protests last month in a bid to force Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to step down and hold a new poll.
At least 70 people have been killed and hundreds injured in violence over the past month, including the latest deaths in arson attacks overnight.
Six people, including two children, died after opposition activists hurled petrol bombs at a packed bus to Dhaka on Friday night in the northern district of Gaibandha, police official Raziur Rahman said. At least 30 people were injured, several critically, he said.
Three people died in a similar arson attack on a truck in the southern district of Barisal early on Saturday, police said.
The BNP has been blockading roads, railways and waterways and says it will continue until the government quits. It called for another 72-hour countrywide general strike from Sunday morning.
Bangladeshi politics has been mired for years in bitter rivalry between Hasina and BNP leader Begum Khaleda Zia. Both women are related to former national leaders, and they have alternated as prime minister for most of the past two decades.
In a statement issued before news of the latest bus attack, the United States voiced grave concern over the violence and said “there is simply no justification for such actions in a democratic Bangladesh”.
“We deplore the unconscionable attacks including bus burnings, throwing incendiary devices, and train derailments that have killed and wounded innocent victims,” U.S. Deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement.
Rights group Human Rights Watch also said in a statement released on Saturday that all parties should cooperate to end the cycle of violence.
Analysts say the renewed political turmoil could threaten Bangladesh’s $24-billion garment export industry, a mainstay of the economy, which is already under pressure after a string of fatal accidents.