Dhaka: A firebomb attack on a bus killed four people on Wednesday, including a young child, while an aide to opposition leader Khaleda Zia survived an assassination attempt in a new upsurge of political unrest in Bangladesh.
The attack on the bus in the northern town of Mithapukur was carried out as anti-government activists tried to enforce a transport blockade as part of efforts to force the downfall of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
It was the deadliest incident since an outbreak of violence at the turn of the year when Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leader Zia was confined to her office after calling for Hasina to stand down. Zia remains stuck in the compound.
The police chief in Mithapukur, Rabiul Alam, said the packed bus was firebombed as it travelled to the capital Dhaka, blaming the attack on followers of an Islamist party which is part of a BNP-led alliance.
"At least 14 people were burnt in the attack. Four of them died, including a child whose body was charred beyond recognition," Alam told a news agency. "Three of the victims are in a very critical condition."
Eight activists of the radical Jamaat-e-Islami party had been arrested over the attack, Alam added.
In Dhaka, police confirmed that Riaz Rahman, a state minister for foreign affairs when Zia was premier, had been seriously injured Tuesday night after unidentified attackers fired live bullets at him.
"He was shot four times from close range by at least three unidentified attackers. They also firebombed his car. His condition is now stable," Dhaka police inspector Rafiqul Islam told a news agency.
The 74-year-old Rahman has been advising Zia since 2007.
The bus attack took the death toll in the latest unrest to 17 with hundreds more injured, according to police figures.
Hundreds of cars and buses have been torched or damaged since the start of the transport blockade, while six trains have been derailed after protesters removed tracks from key inter-city lines.
Zia ordered the blockade last Tuesday as part of a campaign push to force Hasina to stand down in favour of a neutral government who would organise fresh elections.
Hasina, re-elected last January in polls boycotted by the opposition, has warned Zia of "dire consequences" if the attacks continue.