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Bus bombing underscores rising political violence in Bangladesh

A firebomb hit an overnight bus traveling to Dhaka, killing at least seven people. Over the past month, more than 800 vehicles have been targeted.

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    Anwara, a day laborer, lamented the lack of work due to political unrest during the second day of a 72-hour strike called by the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Monday. Since Jan.5, the BNP has been blockading Dhaka demanding that the government resign and hold new elections immediately.
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Suspected opposition protesters threw a firebomb at an overnight bus in Bangladesh Tuesday, killing at least seven people and further fomenting political unrest that has been on the rise since early January. 

Supporters of an opposition alliance led by Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist party (BNP) have been trying to sustain a nationwide transportation strike since Jan. 5, the one-year anniversary of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s election. Tuesday also marked the end of a 72-hour general strike across Bangladesh, which called for schools and businesses to close, The Associated Press reports.

Over the past month, more than 800 vehicles – mostly buses, cars, and trains – have been torched or damaged, and more than 50 people have been killed. At least 15 people were injured in today's attack, including five in critical condition, which targeted a bus carrying sleeping passengers headed toward the capital city of Dhaka, according to police.

Ms. Zia and Prime Minister Hasina have battled for political power for decades, and have alternated as leader for the past 20 years, Reuters reports.

Zia’s BNP and allied parties boycotted the 2014 elections, citing a lack of neutral monitors to oversee the vote and prevent rigging. As a result, members of the 300-seat parliament largely returned unopposed, and Hasina easily won a renewed five-year term, reports Agence France-Presse. The next elections won’t take place until 2019.  

The opposition coalition is calling for Hasina to step down and for new elections to be held.

The violence in the lead-up to the 2014 elections was some of the worst in the country’s history of pre-election hostilities, reported The Christian Science Monitor. An estimated 500 people were killed in 2013, buses were bombed, and the economy was paralyzed by national strikes.

Agence France-Presse reports that Zia has rejected any connection of the BNP and its allies to the firebombings of the past month, and has called for the release of opposition figures detained in relation to the violence.  

After today’s attack, Information Minister Hasanul Haque Inu accused the suspected opposition members of “waging war against the people, not the government,” according to The Financial Times. Mr. Inu added that the government is “prepared for dialogue with any party on political demands,” but not when they’re engaged in a “heinous campaign of violence.”

But many in the opposition coalition say it’s the government that is targeting citizens. According to the Financial Times, the government has been accused of “subverting democracy and seeking to crush political opponents” as more than 7,000 opposition activists have been arrested since protests began last month.

Odhikar, a Bangladesh rights group, said the government was “suppressing all opposition by resorting to human rights violations such as extrajudicial deaths, disappearances, torture and degrading treatment and large-scale arrests”, while opposition protests had turned violent amid ceaseless strikes and demonstrations.

“In all this it is the ordinary people who have become victims of the political stalemate and are suffering as travelling has become unsafe, all kinds of trade and business is hampered, the poor and daily labourers are unemployed and farmers are suffering great loss,” Odkhikar said in its latest monthly report.

Other countries, as well as the European Union, have encouraged Hasina’s government to hold talks with the opposition to resolve the spiraling crisis.

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