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Protesters paralyze parts of Bangladesh after a speeding bus kills two students

Bangladeshi students shout slogans and block a road during a protest Saturday in Dhaka, where a bus killed two students.  (A.M. Ahad/AP)

Last weekend, after a speeding bus struck and killed two students in Dhaka, Bangladesh, their peers began to pour into the streets to demand justice.

Since then, tens of thousands of students, many dressed in school uniforms, have essentially shut down the capital, blocking roads and preventing transit through much of the city. They're calling for improvements to road safety in Bangladesh, where around 12,000 people are killed in road accidents each year, according to the Associated Press.

Protests against reckless driving in Bangladesh continued on August 2, when students assembled outside campuses in the capital of Dhaka and staged sit-ins on roads. (Video: Adnan Aftab)

As the protests grew in recent days, students stopped vehicles — including those belonging to government officials — to ask them for their papers and licenses. Some buses have been vandalized and set on fire, including one that was set ablaze after it hit and killed a motorcyclist Friday, local news reports said.

This week, the Daily Star, Bangladesh's leading English-language newspaper, said bus services have been suspended around the country because major roadways in Dhaka are now blocked and drivers fear the huge crowds of students.

On Saturday, clashes broke out after police used tear gas and batons to scatter protesters. Agence-France Presse said students were fighting with other young adults. The news agency also reported that more than 100 people were injured after police fired rubber bullets into the crowds. “A few of them were in very bad condition,” one doctor told AFP.

The government closed high schools on Thursday in an effort to put an end to the protests.

The Daily Star reported that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina encouraged students to quit protesting so they could return to class. Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal spoke on the government's behalf this week, saying “all the demands raised by the agitating students are logical, and the process to implement those demands is underway.”

Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan questioned the protesters' fury, saying that in neighboring India, a recent crash killed more than 30 people, “but do they talk about it the way we do?” He apologized after outrage on social media, with many people calling for him to step down. Bangladeshi news outlets reported that he later visited the families of one of the students killed by the bus to apologize.

The protests come just months before general elections scheduled for December and follow another series of protests in Dhaka this past spring. At that time, students boycotted classes to protest the government's job quota system, which limited the number of open roles for university graduates. Hasina also encouraged students then to quit their protests: “They have demonstrated enough protests; now let them return home,” she said in response.

Kamal told Reuters this week that the government has promised students it will fulfill their demands. But he said he fears “the movement may turn violent as there is conspiracy to … make the government inoperative.”

There have been reports that both the ruling party and opposition have mobilized supporters to infiltrate the protests.

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