DHAKA (Reuters) - At least four people, including a child, were burned alive in northern Bangladesh when opposition activists hurled petrol bombs at a packed bus on Friday night in the latest spasm of worsening political violence.
The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) refused to take part in a general election just over a year ago, saying it would be rigged, and intensified protests last month in a bid to force Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to step down and hold a new one.
More than 60 people have been killed in violence over the past month including the four on the night bus to Dhaka.
"Four, including a child and a woman, died on the spot after opposition activists hurled petrol bombs," local police official Raziur Rahman said in the northern district of Gaibandha. At least 30 people were injured, several critically, he said.
The BNP has been blockading roads, railways and waterways and says it will continue until the government quits. It called for another 72-hour countrywide general strike from Sunday morning.
Bangladeshi politics has been mired for years in bitter rivalry between Hasina and BNP leader Begum Khaleda Zia. Both women are related to former national leaders, and they have alternated as prime minister for most of the past two decades.
In a statement issued before news of the latest bus attack, the United States voiced grave concern over the violence and said “there is simply no justification for such actions in a democratic Bangladesh”.
"We deplore the unconscionable attacks including bus burnings, throwing incendiary devices, and train derailments that have killed and wounded innocent victims," U.S. Deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement.
"We call on the government to provide the necessary space for peaceful political activity, and for all parties to instruct their members to refrain from violence," she added.
Analysts say the renewed political turmoil could threaten the country's $24-billion garment export industry, a mainstay of the economy, which is already under pressure after a string of fatal accidents.
Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Mark Trevelyan