Bangladesh: Mass student protests after deadly road accident

Bangladesh shuts down high schools as tens of thousands of students take to streets after two teens were killed by bus.

Bangladesh student protests
Bangladeshi students burn an effigy of Bangladesh's Shipping Minister Shahjahan Khan, who is also a transport workers' leader [AM Ahad/AP]

Tens of thousands of students in Bangladesh have rallied for a fifth consecutive day after two teenagers were killed by a speeding bus.

The demonstrators, mostly students in their mid-teens, chanted “we want justice” on Thursday as they defied pouring rain to march in the capital, Dhaka, bringing traffic to a standstill.

Anger has not subdued since a bus racing for passengers killed Diya Khanam Mim and Abdul Karim Rajib on the roadside on Sunday.

According to local reports, the protests appeared to be spontaneous and disorganised, with the students not appearing to have any spokespersons or leadership.

“We’ve never seen this unprecedented number of students [in the streets],”  said Al Jazeera’s Tanvir Chowdhury, reporting from Dhaka, adding that the protesters were supported by their guardians.

Chowdhury said the students are calling for major reforms.

“Overall, there is a general frustration among the public because there is no room for demonstration or free expression,” he said.

“Students don’t seem [to be] moving out of the street anytime soon, unless must of their demands are met,” he added.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina consoled the parents of the two teens who lost their lives and said she would stand by the families with all possible means, according to press secretary Ihsanul Karim.

“I have no language to console you as I can feel the pain of losing near and dear one … In one night I lost all members of my family,” he quoted her as saying during talks with the family members.

Corrupt and dangerous 

Bangladesh’s transport sector is widely perceived as corrupt, unregulated and dangerous.

Meanwhile, a comment by Shajahan Khan, a government minister with ties transport unions, triggered fresh outrage.

“A road crash has claimed 33 lives in India’s Maharashtra; but do they talk about it the way we do?” he asked.

After these remarks, there were immediate demands for his resignation despite the minister later offering an apology.

The education ministry shut down high schools in an effort to quell unrest, promising students their demands for reforms to road safety would be considered.

“They should have taken our demands seriously, but they didn’t,” Imran Ahmed, a protesting student, said.

Authorities say more than 300 vehicles have been vandalised since the protests started.

“We don’t want any vehicles without licences on the streets. Those unfit to drive should not get licences, and we don’t want underage motorists driving public transport,” protester Mohammad Sifat told AFP news agency.

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan on Wednesday promised that the government would launch a public transport safety campaign and urged the protesters to go home.

“People are suffering and we don’t want this,” he said.

According to the National Committee to Protect Shipping, Roads and Railways, a private research group, more than 4,200 pedestrians were killed in road accidents last year, a 25 percent increase from 2016.

Protests are expected to resume on Friday. 

Bangladeshi students shout slogans as they block a road during a protest in Dhaka [A. M. Ahad/Bangladesh]
Bangladeshi students shout slogans as they block a road during a protest in Dhaka [A. M. Ahad/Bangladesh]
Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies