Vol. 5 Num 89 Mon. August 23, 2004  
Front Page

Protests, shock rage
Passenger train torched at Bhairab; AL workers fight with cops

Shock and awe, angst and protest, disbelief and tension swept through the country yesterday as the death toll from Saturday's grenade attack on Sheikh Hasina's rally rose to 18, with the deaths of three more victims at Dhaka Medical College Hospital.

Angry Awami League (AL) activists fought pitched battles with police across the country and an inter-city train was set ablaze by a mob at Bhairab. At least 300 were arrested during hartals enforced in different districts.

The government formed a one-member judicial inquiry commission to probe the grenade attack that Hasina narrowly survived. She is now in bed rest with grievous inner ear injury. No other security measures were taken to protect the AL leaders who were also the targets of the grenade attacks.

At the Combined Military Hospital in Dhaka, the condition of AL leader Ivy Rahman remains critical. There was no official word on her health and rumours ran rife that she had died.

Other top AL leaders including Amir Hossain Amu, Suranjit Sengupta, Abdur Razzak and Kazi Zafarullah, who survived Saturday's attack, were improving in different city hospitals.

Police refused to register any case from the AL and only accepted a general diary. They arrested eight people in a separate case for vandalising vehicles after Saturday's blasts. There has been no headway either in the case that the cops filed about the bomb blasts.

In Bhairab, a mob stopped inter-city passenger train Subarna Express at the outer signal of the station, forced some 600 passengers to alight before setting it on fire at around 11:00am, snapping the capital's rail communications with Chittagong and Sylhet.

Ten of 15 compartments of the Dhaka-bound passenger train from Chittagong were gutted and two burnt partially. Passengers and railway staffers escaped unhurt, Bangladesh Railway Public Relations Director Mostafa-e-Jamil told The Daily Star.

As firefighters reached the scene to douse the flames, the mob attacked the fire brigade vehicles, injuring four firemen.

The mob of around 250 also clashed with police and one person was bullet-hit in police firing while 19 others were hurt in the clash. The railway authorities were forced to suspend all trains scheduled to depart from Dhaka, Sylhet and Chittagong stations and kept other trains on wait at different stations. The mob also attacked the local post office and several banks.

The government yesterday did not let the AL leaders take out the bodies from the DMCH morgue in fear of violent backlash. Paramilitary BDR personnel and police have been deployed there to tighten security. Anxious relatives of the wounded are still crowding outside the main entrance to the hospital.

"There is no instance anywhere in the world that the government does not hand over bodies," said Abdul Matin Khosru, former law minister, leading a procession in Baitul Mokarram National Mosque area after the AL held funeral prayers (namaj-e-janaza).

Some 20,000 people attended the funeral prayers at the mosque as tension ran high. Later, a procession broke the security cordon on the Bangabandhu Avenue and marched through the city streets. The processionists torched a BNP office at Bangabazar, pelted the office of the state news agency BSS and smashed about 100 vehicles.

The capital balked down in apprehension as two more grenades were retrieved, one from Dhaka Central Jail and the other from the toilet of Hawkers' Market close to the AL headquarters where Saturday's mayhem occurred. City roads were mostly deserted. Twenty platoons of BDR personnel and riot police dotted the main streets.

The city was in a sombre mood.

The police and BDR also sealed off the Bangabandhu Avenue from all sides. The truck on which Hasina was standing during the grenade attacks still lies there. Party workers have frilled the mayhem spot with black and red flags.

Most schools shuttered up and attendance in offices was thin. Many foreign organisations started office at noon. Dhaka's city heart was deserted by lunchtime as staffers hurried home before the funeral prayers.

In Chittagong, police arrested 225 AL activists during pre-hartal raids.

Angry demonstrators burst through a police cordon to reach the Central Shaheed Minar yesterday in procession to protest a series of grenade attacks on an Awami League rally that killed at least 18 people. PHOTO: STAR