At least seven people were killed and several others seriously wounded Tuesday when their bus was struck by a gasoline bomb in the deadliest attack in weeks of spiraling political violence in Bangladesh.
The assault brought the death toll from the monthlong unrest to 54 people, nearly half of whom have perished in arson attacks by demonstrators seeking to impose a nationwide land and sea blockade in opposition to Prime Minister Sheik Hasina Wajed's government.
The Dhaka-bound bus was bombed before dawn Tuesday while traveling through eastern Bangladesh along the highway from the port city of Chittagong. Police said a ninth-grade girl and her father were among those killed.
Two other burn victims were in critical condition and being treated at Dhaka's Medical College Hospital, which is also treating some 60 other victims of political arson attacks in recent weeks, said Samanta Lal Sen, director of the hospital's burn unit.
Police say that gasoline bombings of hundreds of buses and other passenger vehicles have killed at least 24 people and injured 153 others since the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party launched nationwide protests in early January.
The protests were timed to mark the one-year anniversary of a disputed election that brought Wajed and her Awami League party to power.
Opposition leader Khaleda Zia, a former prime minister, was briefly confined to her office in Dhaka at the start of the protests by authorities who said they were trying to ensure her safety. Over the weekend, phone, Internet and electrical connections to her office were cut off.
Zia has vowed to continue the blockade until Wajed steps down and fresh elections are called. On Sunday, Zia escalated the campaign by calling for a 72-hour nationwide strike.
The two leaders have traded power in Bangladesh since 1991, each accusing the other of destabilizing the country. Government forces have arrested thousands of opposition activists and lodged criminal charges against many of Zia's allies.
The United States has condemned the violence while European officials have urged the two sides to hold talks to resolve the crisis.
Times staff writer Bengali reported from Mumbai, India, and special correspondent Kader from Dhaka.