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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 November 2018

Beset by protests, Bangladesh considers capital punishment for driving deaths

Student protests enter their ninth day after the death of 2 teenagers by a speeding bus

Students protest in Dhaka, Bangladesh over recent traffic accidents that killed a boy and a girl, August 5, 2018. Reuters
Students protest in Dhaka, Bangladesh over recent traffic accidents that killed a boy and a girl, August 5, 2018. Reuters

Bangladesh's cabinet was on Monday to consider capital punishment for traffic accident deaths, a law ministry official said as thousands of pupils and students held protests for a ninth day over the deaths of two teenagers by a speeding bus in Dhaka.

Tens of thousands of angry school and college teenagers have been demanding changes to Bangladesh's transport laws, paralysing the crowded capital of 18 million, after the two youths were killed when a privately operated bus ran over a group of students on July 29.

"In this amendment it has been proposed to award the highest level of punishment if it is killing by an accident," said the law ministry official, who has been briefed on the matter but declined to be named before a decision.

The current punishment is a maximum jail term of three years. Using the death penalty for road accidents is rare anywhere in the world. Bangladesh's transport authority listed punishments given in different countries that ranged from 14 years, in extreme cases, in the UK to two years in India.

Sheikh Shafi, a student of a polytechnic institute in Dhaka who lost his brother in a road accident in 2015, said one of the problems was that bus drivers are not paid fixed monthly salaries. Instead they earn commission based on the number of passengers they carry, which forces them to work long hours.

"Our demand is that the owners must appoint them and they will work a maximum of 10 hours. The commission based system must be eliminated," said Mr Shafi, who was injured while protesting on Saturday.

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Amid the continuing protests, an official vehicle carrying the US ambassador to Bangladesh was attacked by a group of armed men on Sunday — some on motorcycles — the embassy said in a statement. No one was hurt in the incident but two vehicles were damaged.

The embassy has condemned the "brutal attacks and violence" against the young protesters by security forces, a charge the government denies.

Police said they did not have an immediate explanation as to why the US ambassador came under attack.