January 14, 2015 / 8:23 AM / in 3 years

Anti-government protesters torch Bangladesh bus, four dead

DHAKA (Reuters) - Four passengers aboard a Bangladesh bus were burned alive on Wednesday when anti-government protesters threw a petrol bomb at the packed vehicle, taking the death toll from a bloody nation-wide blockade to 18.

Bangladesh has been wrecked by political violence for decades, and the latest crisis erupted on Jan. 5 when demonstrations broke out on the anniversary of last year’s disputed elections.

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), that boycotted the 2014 vote, has called the blockade to try force Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government to hold a new general election under a non-partisan caretaker government.

The office of prime minister has been held by Hasina or BNP leader Begum Khaleda Zia for all but two of the past 23 years and the rivalry between them is bitter.

Police said eight activists affiliated with Islami Chatra Shibir, the student wing of Jaamat-e-Islami Bangladesh, part of the opposition alliance, were arrested over Wednesday’s bus attack.

Ten of the 50 people aboard the bus were in a critical condition, Rabiul Alam, the officer in charge of Mithapukur police station, told Reuters.

On Tuesday night, one of Khaleda’s advisers, Riaz Rahman, was shot and his car was set on fire.

Riaz was returning from a meeting with Khaleda, who says police have illegally confined her to her office in Dhaka’s diplomatic enclave for more than a week.

The government denies Khaleda is being held against her will, and says she is free to leave the premises.

The United States condemned the attack on Rahman. “There is no justification for such outrageous and cowardly acts in a democratic Bangladesh,” U.S. Department of State deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said in a statement.

Reporting By Serajul Quadir; Editing by Krista Mahr and Jeremy Laurence

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