Mon, Aug 23, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Attack on opposition rally in Dhaka begets reprisals


In retaliation for a grenade attack on an opposition rally that killed 19 people and wounded hundreds, an angry mob set fire to a passenger train in central Bangladesh yesterday, injuring at least 20 people, police said.

The train was traveling to the capital, Dhaka, from southeastern Chittagong city, police said.

Riot police fired tear gas shells to disperse the protesters near Bhairab town, 80km east of Dhaka, said Fazlul Huq, chief traffic controller of state-run Bangladesh Railways.

Police said at least 20 people were wounded in the train attack.

On Saturday, the country's main opposition leader, Sheikh Hasina, escaped injury when about a dozen bombs exploded as she addressed supporters outside her Awami League party's headquarters in Dhaka.

However, Hasina suffered "internal bleeding in one of her ears" because of the loud explosions, said her physician Pran Gopal Krishna.

"We have given her some medication and advised her a week of rest," Krishna told reporters yesterday after the medical check-up.

In that attack, at least 19 people were killed and more than 300 injured, including senior opposition members, ATN Bangla TV station reported Sunday. The toll increased after another injured man died in a hospital, it said.

In the capital, police recovered two unexploded bombs from inside Dhaka Central Jail and at a market outside it, an official said on condition of anonymity.

Traffic was light on the city's streets as many schools and shops were closed for fear of more violence.

Doctors were overwhelmed and appealed for blood. Many people were critically wounded in the blasts and the number of dead could rise, they said.

No one claimed responsibility, but Awami League General Secretary Abdul Jalil said Hasina was the target. The rally was called to protest a series of explosions early this month that killed two people, including an opposition supporter, in the northeastern city of Sylhet.

Shops and schools closed in about a dozen Bangladeshi towns yesterday to protest the latest attacks.

"We demand the immediate arrest of those responsible," Liakat Shikder, a leader of the student group said at an opposition rally.

There were 13 explosions in all, witnesses and media reports said, and two unexploded grenades were found at the scene.

Police gave few details, but Hasina aide Saber Hossain Chowdhury said the first blast was followed by numerous gunshots, and the jeep that carried Hasina away had several bullet marks in the rear glass.

Prime Minister Khaleda Zia condemned the "dastardly attack" and said her government will try to find those responsible.

"Let us all work together to prevent repeat of such cowardly attacks," she said in a statement.

Angry opposition supporters smashed or burned dozens of passing vehicles to protest the attack. Police fired tear gas to disperse the rampaging crowd, witnesses said, while security forces patrolled the streets.

Violence also spread to about a dozen other cities and towns, where protesters smashed vehicles and attacked shops, witnesses said. Security was stepped up across the country, authorities said, with paramilitary troops and police patrolling the capital in full force.

The Awami League called for nationwide general strikes on Tuesday and Wednesday to protest the bombings.

It has accused Zia's government of corruption, incompetence and harassment of political opponents. It has asked Zia to step down and call early polls. Zia's government rejects the allegations and has vowed to remain in power until its five-year term ends in 2006.

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