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Violence has increased in Bangladesh after students took the streets to protest road safety, according to the BBC. The demonstrations have blocked roads amid pouring rain and led to the suspension of schools across some parts of the capital, Dhaka, CNN reports. The Bangladeshi government has cut communications and ordered students to retreat back to their homes and classrooms. The initial demonstrations were sparked by a recent bus incident in which a speeding bus killed two teenagers named Diya Khanam Mim and Abdul Karim Rajib while attempting to cross the road on Sunday, July 29. The protesters have expanded from their initial outrage at this accident to major traffic reforms in the nation, reforms which also speak to the failure of the government in some respects.
The BBC reports that the students began by “calling for stricter enforcement of traffic laws.” Due to their protests, Dhaka’s main roads and intersections have been suffering from further traffic in the last week some roads have been closed down completely.
The government has responded with increased forces to combat the peaceful protesters, attacking both journalists and students. Al-Jazeera reported that police have attacked the protesters with tear gas and rubber bullets. The police, however, denied the use of such violence. The news agency also reported that a doctor and witnesses said the number of injured was much higher, at more than 100. Emergency doctor and AFP witness stated there are at least some of the 115 injured students may have been targeted with rubber bullets. Inconsistent with their actions on the ground, Nurul Islam Nahid, Bangladesh’s Education Minister, has stated that that the demands of the students are “accepted,” confirming that the government will “discipline” the transportation in the country’s capital, according to Al-Jazeera. She also has shared her condolences with the parents of the two teens, stating her sympathy with the families and promised support with “all possible means,” according to Al-Jazeera’s chat with 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,” she continued in her statement, Al-Jazeera reports. However, the sympathetic statements seemed tone-deaf to protesters who know the transport system in Bangladesh to be corrupt and underfunded. A worse and more ignorant account, came from a government ministry named Shajahan Khan when he said that, “A road crash has claimed 33 lives in India’s Maharashtra; but do they talk about it the way we do?” He only intensified anger among protesters and possibly increased their numbers. While his comment has been retracted, demonstrators are calling for his resignation, according to Al-Jazeera.
On the other hand, the government seems persistent in its effort to tame the issue, even attacking journalists who are covering the demonstrations. The Associated Press reports that some journalists were physically attacked and their cameras confiscated on multiple occasions by members of ruling Awami League. In an effort to limit the broadcast of the demonstrations, by civilians, companies suspended internet services under pressure from the government. 3G and 4G service were out as of yesterday, according to the local newspaper, Dhaka Tribune.
The United Nations condemned the recent violence in the country. UN resident coordinator in Bangladesh Mia Seppoand has said that the organization is “worried for the safety of the children and young people caught up in the protests. We are deeply concerned about the reports of violence and call on all for calm,” Al-Jazeera reported.
While the government is cautioning against protests and trying to eliminate them, the demonstrators have only grown more passionate. The Bangladeshi government needs to answer their people’s demands rather than try to force them back to silence. It needs to implement actual legislation that will enable improvements in the transportation system. Furthermore, the government is required to allow it’s people communication through a free press.