Bangladesh protesters set train on fire amid opposition strike

DHAKA (Reuters) -Protesters in Bangladesh set a train ablaze on Tuesday, killing four people, among them a mother and child, amid a countrywide strike called by the opposition to press its demand for the government to resign ahead of next month’s general elections.

It was the latest strife sparked by anti-government protests in which dozens of buses and vehicles have been set on fire, with at least six people killed since Oct. 28, when an opposition rally turned violent.

“Strike supporters set fire to three compartments of an express train,” said fire service official Shahjahan Shikder. “Four bodies have been retrieved from a compartment.”

Among the dead were a 32-year-old woman and her son, aged three.

It was not immediately clear how many were aboard the train, headed for the capital of Dhaka from the northern district of Netrokona, when passengers saw the flames a short distance from its destination, police said.

“Apart from setting fire to trains, parts of the railway line are being removed at several places,” said Railways Minister Nurul Islam Sujan.

“It is difficult to provide adequate security on such a large railway line,” he added, vowing to deploy 2,700 paramilitary troops within a couple of days to guard against such activities.

With its top leaders either jailed or in the exile, the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) wants Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to step down and make way for a neutral government to oversee the Jan. 7 polls that it has boycotted.

Hasina, who is seeking her fourth consecutive term of five, has repeatedly rebuffed the opposition calls to resign, blaming the BNP for the recent deadly street protests in support of their demand.

A senior BNP leader called for a judicial inquiry into the train fire, which he described as “sabotage”.

“This kind of heinous and diabolical work is possible only with the help of illegal and anti-people forces,” said the leader, Ruhul Kabir Rizvi.

Of the 300 constituencies up for grabs in the election, Hasina’s Awami League party has shared 26 with its ally the Jatiya Party, thus allowing the latter to field candidates in a total of 283 seats.

Rights groups have accused the government of targeting opposition leaders and supporters. The government denies the accusations but faces pressure from Western nations to hold free, fair and participatory elections.

In line with usual practice, Bangladesh’s election panel has decided to deploy the army from Dec. 29 to deter any violence.

(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)