Anti-government protesters have firebombed a bus full of sleeping passengers in eastern Bangladesh, killing seven in spiralling political unrest aimed at toppling prime minister Sheikh Hasina.
Several passengers were also critically injured in the attack in Chauddagram town, blamed on activists from the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led by two-time former premier Khaleda Zia.
The deaths brought the number of people killed in the month-long protests to 53 – most of them victims of firebomb attacks on buses and trucks – as opposition activists try to enforce a transport blockade.
“Seven passengers were burnt to death in the bus after the petrol bomb was thrown at 4:00am [local time],” said district police chief Tuttul Chakrabarty.
“Five of the passengers are fighting for their life as 40 to 80 per cent of their bodies were burnt. They have been shifted to a hospital in the capital.”
Survivors of the attack said the bus was packed with local tourists returning overnight from the resort town of Cox’s Bazaar to the capital Dhaka.
“I woke up hearing loud cries and saw people burning in the bus,” one survivor told local media.
“I jumped through the window and found a friend in flames. I doused the fire but his condition is critical.”
Up to 15 people were also slightly injured after they jumped from the vehicle’s windows, trying to escape the blaze, the police chief added.
Police inspector Mahfuzur Rahman said authorities suspected BNP activists were behind the petrol bomb.
Raids were carried out on local villages near the location of the attack, but no arrests were made.
In another attack on Tuesday, four people suffered burns after a petrol bomb was thrown at a moving train outside Dhaka.
Hundreds of people have been injured since the protests started, while local media have reported more than 850 vehicles had been torched or damaged and inter-city transport services had ground to a halt.
Authorities have stepped up the pressure on 69-year-old Ms Zia, who has been holed up in her office since January 3, in a bid to halt the violence.
Ms Zia called the protests early last month and urged supporters to enforce a nationwide blockade of roads, railways and waterways to force fresh elections.
The BNP and its allies boycotted the last poll in January 2014 on the grounds they believed the result would be rigged.