- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 22, 2004

DHAKA, Bangladesh — A mob set fire to a passenger train yesterday as protesters clashed with police across Bangladesh a day after a grenade attack on an opposition rally killed 19 persons and wounded hundreds.

The Subarna Express train was attacked as it was entering a station in the town of Bhairab, 50 miles east of its destination, Dhaka, said Mostafa-e-Jamail, a spokesman for state-run Bangladesh Railways.

About 20 people were injured, most of them passengers trying to flee while protesters angry about the Saturday attack doused at least 15 of about 25 train cars with gasoline and ignited them, authorities said. Police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd.

Clashes were reported in six other towns in southern Bangladesh, injuring an additional 30 persons, police said. More than 200 protesters were arrested in Chittagong, 140 miles southeast of Dhaka, on charges of violence, the private station NTV reported.

The violence came amid anger over the Saturday attack outside the opposition Awami League party’s headquarters in Dhaka, the capital, which allies said was an attempt to kill party leader Sheik Hasina.

“We demand the immediate arrest of those responsible,” said Liakat Shikder, a student group leader, at a protest yesterday in Dhaka.

Security was stepped up nationwide, authorities said, with paramilitary troops and police patrolling the capital in full force.

At least 19 persons were killed and more than 300 wounded, including senior opposition members, when more than a dozen grenades were lobbed at the Saturday rally while Sheik Hasina was delivering a speech.

There were 13 explosions in all, witnesses and media reports said, and two unexploded grenades were found at the scene. The first blast was followed by numerous gunshots, and the jeep that carried Sheik Hasina away had several bullet marks in the rear glass, Hasina aide Saber Hossain Chowdhury said.

Sheik Hasina escaped serious injury but suffered “internal bleeding” in an ear because of the loud explosions, her physician Pran Gopal Krishna said. “We have given her some medication and advised her a week of rest,” Mr. Krishna added.

No one claimed responsibility, but Awami League General Secretary Abdul Jalil said Sheik Hasina was the target. The Awami League has called for nationwide general strikes tomorrow and Wednesday to protest the bombings.

Prime Minister Khaleda Zia condemned the “dastardly attack” and said officials will try to find those responsible. But her government rejected opposition accusations that it has harassed political opponents.

Bangladesh, an impoverished nation of 140 million people, has a history of political unrest. Two presidents were assassinated in military coups and there have been 19 coup attempts since the country gained independence from Pakistan in 1971.

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