Violence spreads after rally ends in 19 deaths

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The Independent Online

Violence spread across Bangladesh yesterday, as mobs set railway coaches on fire and smashed cars in retaliation for grenade attacks on an opposition rally in Dhaka that left 19 people dead and 200 injured.

Violence spread across Bangladesh yesterday, as mobs set railway coaches on fire and smashed cars in retaliation for grenade attacks on an opposition rally in Dhaka that left 19 people dead and 200 injured.

The former prime minister, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, suffered only a minor hand wound when seven bullets struck her car as she left the rally, members of her Awami League said. Her bodyguard was killed. Ms Wajed's impassioned speech from the back of a lorry had earlier ended when 13 hand grenades were thrown.

Dozens of people were injured yesterday when mobs set fire to a passenger train as it entered Bhairab, 50 miles from Dhaka. Twenty people were injured and 15 carriages of the 25-carriage train were ablaze. Other attacks were reported in 13 towns across Bangladesh, including Dhaka, where crowds smashed cars and shop windows.

Hundreds of people were treated at crowded Dhaka hospitals as doctors struggled to cope with the aftermath of Saturday's bombings. The Awami League held mass funeral prayers for the victims yesterday at the scene of the blasts.

A crowd of 20,000 people had assembled on Saturday outside party headquarters in the capital at a meeting to protest against political violence. In May, a bomb exploded in the north-eastern city of Sylhet, killing three and wounding more than 50, including the British high commissioner.

Prime Minister Khaleda Zia condemned the violence as "dastardly" and said that her government would try to find those responsible. However, her party cast doubt on the reports that it was an attempt to kill Ms Hasina.

The Awami League called for a two-day general strike tomorrow and Wednesday to protest against the bombings. It excoriated Ms Zia's government for corruption, incompetence and harassing the opposition. It demanded that she step down and call early elections. Ms Zia's government rejected the allegations and said it would not relinquish power until the elected term expires in 2006.

In the past five years, at least 134 people have died in bombings, Dhaka's New Age daily said. Two Bangladeshi presidents were assassinated in military coups and there have been 19 failed coups since independence from Pakistan in 1971.

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