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After 9 Days, Students' Protest in Bangladesh for Road Safety Ends

The agitation prompted Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's Cabinet to approve a tougher transport law and launch a crackdown on reckless driving.


Updated:August 7, 2018, 9:51 PM IST
After 9 Days, Students' Protest in Bangladesh for Road Safety Ends
Bangladeshi students shout slogans during a protest for removing or reforming a quota system in government jobs in Dhaka.
Dhaka: The unprecedented protests by the students demanding better road safety laws in Bangladesh on Tuesday fizzled out, with thousands of agitators returning to their classes after a nine-day-long stir that paralysed the country and left over 150 people injured in clashes with riot police.

The agitation prompted Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's Cabinet to approve a tougher transport law and launch a crackdown on reckless driving.

At the height of the protest, students were seen managing Dhaka's notorious traffic and checking whether drivers of the cars and buses have valid licences and proof of roadworthiness of their vehicles.

Thousands of students of schools, colleges and universities took to the street on July 29, demanding strict implementation of road safety rules, following the death of two teenage students - a boy and a girl - by a speeding bus.

The accident took place when two buses were racing to pick up passengers on Dhaka's main Airport Road and triggered widespread anger initially on social media and then led to a wave protests.

Witnesses said Dhaka, the city of 18 million people, witnessed usual traffic movements with public transport operators resuming their services.

"The number of buses is less than usual but they have returned to the street... I came to work on a bus after eight days," a private firm employee in Dhaka's Motijheel commercial district said.

Most of the schools in the Bangladesh capital reopened today after protesting students withdrew from the street.

A teacher of the Dhaka's Milestone School said: "We have resumed our classes today with normal student attendance."

Authorities also claimed that students have returned to their classes and every thing was normal.

"Today everything is normal. Students have returned to their classes," head of Bangladesh's secondary and higher education authority Mahbubur Rahman said.

"So far, there is no news of protests from any university," he said, adding that the authorities have shut down two universities in an effort to quell the protests.

Meanwhile, the Education Ministry has called a meeting of vice-chancellors of all private universities tomorrow to discuss clashes between police and students during the campaign.

"The meeting will take place at the Dhaka International Mother Language Institute auditorium tomorrow," said, quoting the Education Ministry.

Bangladesh Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid will chair the meeting, it said.

Despite being peaceful initially, the protests turned violent in the last three days. Buses were torched, hundreds of vehicles vandalised as activists from the ruling Awami League's student front and transport workers allegedly attacked demonstrators, journalists, photographers and even the US ambassador's car during the protests, leaving several injured.

On Sunday, some people, wearing helmets, attacked agitators and journalists covering the stir in Dhaka.

Police lobbed tear gas shells and rubber bullets, used water cannons and resorted to baton charge to disperse a procession brought out by the Dhaka University students.

The police action on the protesters invited criticism of the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government from the United Nations, Washington and rights groups.

The government claimed that "third party infiltrators" intruded the protesters to fish in troubled waters spreading rumours to create instability.

"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 (and) the minor students, therefore, are under great threat," Hasina had said in a statement two days ago.

She said non-student "saboteurs" were using school uniforms and ID cards as "the third force has appeared at the scene".

The police had arrested an actress, Nawshaba Ahmed, on Friday for allegedly spreading rumours to agitate the school students after she uploaded a post on the Facebook, claiming that four female students were taken hostage at the ruling Awami League's Dhanmandi office, which the protestors later called "unfounded".

The police had also arrested well-known photographer and activist Shahidul Alam on charges of spreading false information about the protests and propaganda against the government. The High Court today scrapped a lower court order allowing police to interrogate him for seven days keeping him in their custody.

In a bid to calm down the protesting students, the Hasina government also promised to consider death penalty for deliberately causing road deaths and approved a new road safety law.

According to the Bangladesh Passengers Welfare Association, a private research group, at least 7,397 people — around 20 a day — died in road accidents in 2017, a 25 per cent increase from 2016. The World bank said more than 4,000 people die in accidents each year, giving Bangladesh a tag of being one of world's worst accident prone nations.

Journalists on Tuesday gave a 72-hour ultimatum to the government to arrest those involved in attacks on some of their colleagues covering the protests. At least, seven photojournalists, including an Associated Press (AP) photographer, were injured in attacks with sharp weapons, sticks and iron rods by helmets wearing youths at Dhanmandi, Jigatala and Science Laboratory areas.

Meanwhile, an alliance of left-leaning student organisations on Tuesday announced demonstrations in all educational institutions across the country on Wednesday in protest against attacks on students.
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| Edited by: Naqshib Nisar
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