|Sheikh Hasina speaks to reporters at her house in Dhaka on Sunday. (AFP)
Dhaka, Aug. 22: Protesters clashed with police and torched a passenger train, leaving dozens of people injured today, a day after a grenade attack on an Opposition Awami League rally in Dhaka killed 19 people.
Thousands of people attended a mass funeral prayer for the dead in the capital and marched through the streets in mourning.
Awami League chief Sheikh Hasina, who escaped yesterday’s grenade attack outside her party’s headquarters, blamed the violence on the government. Hasina escaped with minor cuts to her hand, but her hearing was impaired by the blasts, doctors and party officials said.
“Of course the government is totally involved,” Hasina said at her residence in her first remarks after the attack. She also called for an international investigation into the blasts.
Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan, secretary general of ruling BNP, denied the allegation and said the government is doing its best to nab the culprits.
Yesterday, Hasina just finished her speech from atop a truck when the first of the 13 blasts occurred at the rally of about 15,000 people.
The blast left hundreds wounded, including senior Awami League leaders Abdur Razzak, Suranjit Sen Gupta and Ivy Rahman. Rahman, the party’s women’s affairs secretary, lost both her legs and was said to be critical at the Combined Military Hospital.
An angry mob of Awami League supporters stopped a train coming to Dhaka from southeastern Chittagong and set several bogies ablaze after forcing passengers to alight. At least 20 passengers were hurt as they tried to flee the mob.
Violence also spread to the southeastern port city of Chittagong, where police detained 205 people on charges of rioting. Clashes between police and Opposition activists were reported in a number of places including in Gopalganj, Hasina’s hometown 250 km southwest of Dhaka, the coastal town of Cox’s Bazar and the industrial city of Khulna. At least 30 people were injured in the violence across the nation, officials and witnesses said.
More protests were planned for tomorrow, with the Awami League calling a two-day national strike starting on Tuesday. The party’s student wing announced an indefinite nationwide strike in all educational institutions.
Indian High Commissioner Veena Sikri met Hasina at her residence to express sympathy over the attack. “This is a heinous attack and we are shocked,” she said after the meeting. US Ambassador Harry K. Thomas hoped “those responsible for the bomb attack are brought to justice.”
The Bangladesh government said it has appointed High Court judge Joynul Abedin to probe the blasts and submit his report within three weeks.
However, a red alert has been sounded across the country after two more unexploded grenades were found inside Dhaka’s central jail and a market outside it. By late afternoon, the capital’s streets were emptying as office workers headed home early on what is a working day in Muslim-majority Bangladesh.
Bangladesh has a history of political turmoil including several coups since it won independence in 1971 from Pakistan.