Will the Arab Spring Style Protests Reach Other Parts of the World?

Tens of thousands of students raised awareness about the fact that in Bangladesh, the authorities laxly enforce road safety rules and that government authorities were among those that violated traffic safety rules.

In recent days, there have been massive protests within Bangladesh after two young people were killed by a speeding bus in Bangladesh. During these protests, tens of thousands of students raised awareness about the fact that in Bangladesh, the Bangladeshi authorities laxly enforce road safety rules and that government authorities were among those who violated traffic safety rules, the Los Angeles Times reported.  In one instance, a government minister was caught having a driver who lacked a valid driver’s license.

Road safety is a major problem in Bangladesh.  According to a World Health Organization report, there are more than 20,000 road fatalities every year in Bangladesh. However, the ruling government decided to suppress the students instead of accepting constructive criticism on the issue. In order to quell the protests, the Sheikh Hasina government clamped down on over 150 students who clashed with security forces and the youth wing of the ruling Awami League Party beat up at least 20 journalists, Deutche Welle reported.

Shipan Kumer Basu, the President of the World Hindu Struggle Committee, has expressed support for the demonstrators: “I strongly condemn the student oppression in Bangladesh.  It is a common fact that after the Awami League came to power in 2008, several thousand licenses have been distributed among the Awami League supporters and activists without proper training.   In addition, the relatives of the MP’s and ministers are sitting as the chairs of all transport owners associations.  No rules are being considered.  As a result, the number of road accidents and deaths in Bangladesh has increased gradually.  So after 2008, Sheikh Hasina has to take responsibility for the road accidents.”

While road safety issues sparked the protests, more than one analyst believes that the protests are routed in deeper issues than just the traffic safety issue. Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Woodrow Wilson Center, told Deutche Welle: “It’s hard to imagine that the mere issue of traffic safety could spark such a widespread and sustained period of dissent.  The road safety issue is the straw that broke the camel’s back; these large protests were rooted in much deeper and complicated grievances.”  According to Basu, the students are protesting just as much against the corruption that is rampant within the country and the fact that the rule of law is not being properly enforced as they are demonstrating in favor of road safety.

The international community has expressed support for the students against the Bangladeshi government.   According to the UN, “UN agencies are increasingly concerned for the safety of children and young people caught up in recent protests over road safety and other parts of the country.  Students and young people have a legitimate right to speak out on issues of concern to them including road safety issues and to have their opinion heard without threats of violence.  The UN has long campaigned for better road safety across the world and traffic accidents in Bangladesh are one of the major killers of young people.  It is a matter of deep concern that a number of young people taking part in demonstrations in the capital city have been injured over the last few days.  Many schools have been closed as a result of the protests, depriving children of learning opportunities. The UN urgently calls upon all parties to keep everyone including children and young people safe on the roads and safe from any kinds of violence.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, the US Embassy in Bangladesh added: “Nothing can justify the brutal attacks and violence over the weekend against thousands of young people who have peacefully exercised their rights in supporting a safer Bangladesh.”  The report added that in recent months, US Ambassador to Bangladesh Marcia Bernicat has castigated how Bangladesh is drifting towards authoritarian rule, expressing concern over reports of intimidation and ballot stifling in a recent mayoral election.   She has also condemned police killings within the country in recent days. According to Basu, assailants not too long ago attacked the American Ambassador’s car while she was returning from a dinner party within the country and that her driver was injured in the attack.

Basu added that the European Union and India have also condemned the recent violence directed towards students in Bangladesh, reporting that students in Calcutta have protested in solidarity with them.  The Indian Representative of the World Hindu Struggle Committee Abhishak Gupta has also condemned the incident: “I will speak to the Indian government in order to assure that they take steps to support the Bangladeshi students.”

This article was originally published on JerusalemOnline

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