Bus deaths spark huge road safety protests by school students in Bangladesh
Schools were closed and the government promised urgent reform after teenagers brought traffic to a standstill for days in the capital Dhaka.
Classes have been closed and thousands of school students have protested for days about road safety after two teenagers were killed by a bus in Bangladesh.
Demonstrators, mostly students in their mid-teens and many wearing their school uniforms, brought traffic to a standstill as they marched through the streets of the capital Dhaka chanting “we want justice”.
They set up checkpoints and demanded to see driving licences and proof that vehicles were roadworthy.
The demonstrations began after the teenage girl and boy were knocked down by a speeding bus on July 29 in the capital Dhaka.
The authorities shut down mobile internet services across swathes of the country to try to disrupt the protests.
All high schools across Bangladesh were closed by the education ministry on August 2 in an attempt to calm things down. Officials promised that demands for reforms to road safety would be considered.
But the protests took a violent turn in Dhaka on August 4. Reports say older university students joined in and more than 100 people were hurt as police fired rubber bullets, according to students and doctors who treated the injured.
There were claims of ruling party activists attacking the protestors.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina urged families to keep their children at home, saying: “Whatever they have done is enough.”
But Imran Ahmed, a protesting student, told the AFP news agency: “They should have taken our demands seriously – but they didn’t.”
A car carrying United States ambassador Marcia Bernicat was attacked by armed adult men but she escaped unscathed, the embassy said.
It said it did not condone “senseless property destruction”. But the US embassy added that “nothing can justify the brutal attacks and violence over the weekend against the thousands of young people who have been peacefully exercising their democratic rights in supporting a safer Bangladesh”.
Rights group Amnesty International called on the government to stop its “violent crackdown” on “overwhelmingly peaceful student protestors”.
Today the law and justice minister Anisul Huq told AFP the cabinet has approved a new law allowing for the death penalty “if an investigation finds that the death in a road accident has been caused deliberately”.
The cabinet also approved tougher prison sentences for death by dangerous driving – up from three years to five.
More than 4000 people die in road accidents each year in Bangladesh, with traffic laws poorly enforced.