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Thursday 24 January 2019

Bangladeshi capital still cut off amid road safety protests

The capital Dhaka is still cut off from the rest of the country after five days of mass demonstrations.

Students blocked several main streets in the capital, protesting the death of two college students (AP)
Students blocked several main streets in the capital, protesting the death of two college students (AP)

By Julhas Alam

Dhaka remains largely cut off from the rest of Bangladesh after five days of protests by young people demanding safer roads, with local and long-distance buses staying off city routes.

The protests, which began on Sunday after two college students were struck and killed by a pair of buses, eventually paralysed the capital of seven million people, with tens of thousands of demonstrators blocking roads.

Students also stopped thousands of private vehicles – including those of top officials and judges – demanding to see if the cars were registered and the drivers licensed.

Some of the protests brought the capital to a standstill (AP)

One minister had to abandon his vehicle in the street after protesters found that his paperwork was not in order, according to news reports.

There were no sign of mass protests on Friday, but dozens of people formed a human chain in front of the main press club in Dhaka to call for transportation reform.

“We must bring changes,” said Selina Akter, a mother of two schoolchildren who joined the group.

Corruption is rife in Bangladesh, making it easy for unlicensed drivers and unregistered vehicles to appear on the roads.

The protests were sparked by the death of two students in a bus accident (AP)

At least 12,000 people die each year in road accidents often blamed on faulty vehicles, reckless driving and lax traffic enforcement.

The two buses involved in Sunday’s accident were racing to collect passengers, a common occurrence in the city, which is regularly gridlocked by traffic chaos.

One of the bus drivers had fled the scene, though both were later arrested.

Abdur Rahim, a senior leader of the Bangladesh Road Transport Workers’ Federation, said that bus operators would stay off the streets until security improves. A handful of buses were attacked during the protests.

He said: “We have invested lot of money to do business, we can’t let people burn our vehicles in the name of protests.

“We need our security, too.”

Buses are key to transportation in Bangladesh, where trains are overcrowded and most people cannot afford their own cars.

Press Association

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