Arson attack on packed bus kills 7 in Bangladesh, police say

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DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Attackers threw crude fire bombs at a packed bus early Tuesday morning, setting it alight as it moved along a Bangladesh highway and leaving at least seven people dead and 16 injured amid a nationwide strike called by the opposition.

The pre-dawn attack, the latest in a surge in political violence, came as the bus traveled from the coastal city of Cox's Bazar to the capital, Dhaka, said Uttam Chakrabarty, police chief in the Comilla district where the bombing occurred. The area is about 90 kilometers (55 miles) east of the capital.

He blamed opposition activists for the attack, but they have denied any involvement.

The injured have been hospitalized, mostly for burns, he said.

Political attacks — most of them fire bombings of vehicles — have killed at least 53 people since early January, when an opposition alliance led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia ordered a nationwide transportation blockade to force Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to step down. The two politicians have long battled one another for political supremacy in the South Asian nation.

The bus attacked Tuesday morning, unlike many vehicles traveling major roads since the blockade was ordered, had no security escort from the police or the country's paramilitary border guards.

Authorities blame opposition activists and hired thugs for the attacks. Zia and her aides deny they are involved.

Tuesday was also the last day of a 72-hour nationwide general strike — which also called for schools, offices and businesses to close — ordered by the opposition.

Zia's party and its partners boycotted the 2014 vote after being told there would be no neutral monitor overseeing the elections. That allowed Hasina to win a new five-year term. Hasina says new elections will not be held until 2019, saying the nation cannot suffer because of a "wrong political decision."

The renewed violence ended a year of relative calm in Bangladesh, where politics has long been accompanied by chaos. Political violence left nearly 300 people dead in 2013.

Zia was prime minister from 2001 to 2006, but failed to hand over power peacefully. A military-backed caretaker government ruled the country for two years before Hasina came to power in a landslide 2008 election.

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