Protests in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka have raged since the 29th of July as young people have taken to the streets and blocked traffic as part of a drive to raise awareness of road safety issues throughout the nation. The proximate cause of the protests was the death of two young students who were crushed under the wheels of a racing bus near on Airport Road in Dhaka.
In the aftermath of the tragic road accident, government minister Shajahan Khan appeared to make light of the incident while he was further criticised for apparently smiling during his dismissive remarks about the death of two young Bangladeshis. Since then, protests have swelled and while the proximate issue remains demands for road safety, as the authorities have in some cases responded with a heavy hand to the unarmed protesters, there remains a prospect that the protests could grow into more holistic demonstrations against the authoritarian rule of long serving Premier Sheikh Hasina.
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While the United States, a close strategic ally of both Bangladesh and its traditional partner India, has said little about the incident, today the motorcade of US Ambassador Marcia Bernicat was attacked in the streets of Dhaka by youths throwing bricks and stones. This incident could serve to raise international awareness of the events in Balgladesh which thus far have made few ripples outside of south Asian media.
The events in Dhaka have been compounded by the fact that the country’s long-time ally India has recently made 4 million ethnic Bengalis in the Indian state of Assam effectively stateless by failing to list them on a registry of Indian citizens. At a time when the Sheikh Hasina has been reticent to take on further refugees from the now largely quelled crisis in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, it is clear that a would-be inflow of 4 million stateless people into Bangladesh from India could only further raise tensions in a country being rapidly pushed to the brink due to internal crises. All of this serves to heap addition pressure on the ruling party and its leadership at a time of increasingly widespread discontent.
With reports of an internet shut-down throughout parts of the capital in an attempt to stop protesters from coordinating action against one another, there have been further accusations of loyalists to the governing Awami League party attacking protesters.
Thus far, in spite of the online and police crackdown, the protests continue.