Unrest hits Bangladesh

Angry protests and strikes have broken out after a grenade attack on an opposition rally in Dhaka killed at least 18 people and narrowly missed killing an opposition leader.

    A series of grenade blasts at a rally on Saturday killed 18 people

    Passengers fled an inter-city train on Sunday after an angry mob set fire to it at a central Bangladesh station about 80km east of Dhaka, a railway official said.

    None of the passengers were injured in the fire, Bangladesh Railways' director of public relations Mustafa al-Zamil added.

    Officials said supporters of the opposition Awami League, which is led by former prime minister Shaikha Hasina Wajid, had attacked the train and railway station and also damaged cars and shops.

    They said opposition supporters forced about 600 passengers to alight from the train before setting two empty coaches on fire.

    The train attack followed a series of grenade blasts at a rally held by the Awami League on Saturday which killed 18 people and left more than 150 others injured, at least a dozen seriously.

    Leader escapes

    Police patrolled the streets of Dhaka after Saturday's violence in which Shaikha Hasina escaped with minor leg injuries.

    Officers in riot gear blocked off the area around her party's headquarters, where her car had been raked with gunfire after grenades were lobbed into a crowd listening to her give a speech, witnesses added.

    "It was total carnage, worse than a scene from a war film, with bodies, limbs and blood everywhere"

    Sabir Husayn Chowdhury,
    Shaikha Hasina aide

    "A series of grenades went off at five- to seven-second intervals giving the attackers smoke cover; as she was rushed away by bodyguards, her bullet-proof car was hit by at least seven bullets," Shaikha Hasina's political secretary Sabir Husayn Chowdhury said.

    "Only the fact the vehicle was bullet-proof saved her," he said, adding that one of those killed was a bodyguard, hit as he shielded Shaikha Hasina.

    "It was total carnage, worse than a scene from a war film, with bodies, limbs and blood everywhere," he said, adding that 18 were now confirmed dead.

    Chowdhury said there were eight explosions and police later found three more unexploded grenades.

    Strike call

    The Awami League called for a one-day dawn to dusk strike in Dhaka on Sunday and a two-day countrywide strike on Tuesday and Wednesday to protest against the attacks, keeping cars off the roads and closing down shops and ports. 

    Angry crowds torched vehicles in
    the capital Dhaka and Chittagong

    Opposition activists staged spontaneous demonstrations in other cities and towns on Sunday, shouting anti-government slogans, media reports said.

    The capital Dhaka was tense after overnight rioting in which vehicles were torched.

    In the south-eastern port city of Chittagong, 208km from Dhaka, hundreds of Awami League activists went on a rampage, overturning and setting fire to cars.

    Police said 230 people had been arrested after the disturbances.

    The government, a four-party coalition led by Prime Minister Khalida Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party, has strongly condemned the bombing.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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