Bangladesh student protest spurs warning against opposition meddling

DHAKA (Reuters) - A massive student protest in Bangladesh, sparked by the death of two teenagers mowed down by a speeding bus in the capital, has alarmed the government ahead of a general election and prompted a warning against opposition meddling.

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In the latest violence, an angry crowd set a bus ablaze on Friday after it hit a motorcycle and killed the rider in heavily congested Dhaka, where traffic has been paralyzed and 317 buses burned in protests that have injured 51.

Tens of thousands of uniformed students have turned out to demand a crackdown on reckless bus drivers since Sunday, when a privately run bus hit the college students, provoking fury.

“We have assured them that all their demands will be fulfilled and a law will be proposed in the next session of parliament,” Interior Minister Asaduzzaman Khan told Reuters.

“But we fear the movement may turn violent as there is a conspiracy to...make the government inoperative. We’ll take stern action against those conspiring to exploit this by inciting the minors.”

Law enforcement agencies had proof that activists of the student wing of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) had been told to mix with protesters, Khan added, urging parents to steer children away from the protests.

The BNP rejected the accusation of instigation.

“The government should resign immediately for failing to tackle road accidents and solve the crisis of mass commuting,” Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, its secretary general, told Reuters.

“This is a pretence to cover up its failure.”

The protests spreading across Bangladesh have highlighted traffic risks in the densely populated country, where more than 4,000 people die in road accidents each year, one of the world’s highest rates, the World Bank says.

Police said they had arrested the bus driver in Friday’s incident.

Spontaneous student protests are rare in Bangladesh and the government should handle them carefully ahead of elections due by December, said Mahbubur Rahman, a political science professor at Dhaka’s North South University.

“Their movement acted as a spark and within a short time it spread all over the country,” Rahman said. “If the government fails to control and manage it, then it will be judged as a failure of the administration and government.”

Writing by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Clarence Fernandez