Dhaka: Thousands of angry school students in Bangladesh continued their protest for the ninth consecutive day today, demanding a crackdown on reckless driving even as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina urged them to return home, saying that vested quarters have infiltrated the campaign.
The protest brought the capital city to a standstill, blocking major intersections compelling the bus operators to suspend their services citing security reasons and exposing commuters in Dhaka to extreme difficulties.
“We are now worried about your security as the perpetrators of arson attacks (in 2014-15) may stage sabotages… a quarter is out to catch fish in troubled water,” the state-run BSS news agency quoted Hasina as saying.
The protests began after two teenage students — a boy and a girl — were killed when two buses racing to collect passengers, a common occurrence in the city, hit them and wounded several others. One of the bus drivers fled the scene although both were later arrested.
Stating that non-student saboteurs were using school uniforms and ID cards, Hasina warned that a “third party” could sabotage the protest.
“The minor students, therefore, are under great threat,” said Hasina, and urged their parents, principals, and headmasters of their respective schools and colleges to take back the children from the street.
The prime minister’s call came as authorities overnight shut down mobile internet services across swathes of the country.
Amid the ongoing protest, the police yesterday night arrested an actress for spreading rumours to further agitate the protesting school students.
As the protest continued, violence erupted in parts of the city.
Transport workers, who went on a virtual shutdown citing security reasons for the past eight days, took to the street and clashed with protestors, prompting police to use batons and tear gas canisters.
Meanwhile, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal warned of tough punitive actions against instigators of the student’s demonstrations, and at the same time cautioned protestors not to cross the limit.
“Stern actions await those who are spreading propaganda to instigate (further) the (protesting) students,” he said, launching a nationwide ‘Traffic Week’ at Dhaka intersection.
“We have a limit of patience but it does not mean that we will tolerate anarchy. We will take action if that limit is exceeded,” the minister said. He said thousands of sets of school dresses were sold out and fake ID cards were produced in the last few days for the infiltrators who joined the protests to create anarchy.
The protests demanding safer roads largely cut off Dhaka, the city of 18 million, from the rest of Bangladesh as bus owners said they stayed off the road fearing vandalism.
Ever since the protests erupted, the school students participating in the demonstrations were seen on Dhaka’s streets checking whether cars and buses had valid licenses and were in a roadworthy condition.
So far, they stopped flag cars carrying senior cabinet ministers, Supreme Court judges alongside police and military vehicles to verify their drivers’ valid papers and uploaded the pictures of the scenes on the social media when they were found to have lacked the licenses.
The protests have alarmed the government that fears the opposition would fish in troubled waters ahead of a general election at the end of the current year.
More than 4,200 pedestrians were killed in road accidents in Bangladesh in 2017, a 25% increase from 2016, according to private research group the National Committee to Protect Shipping, Roads, and Railways.