Dhaka police officers suspect an arson attack and said they are searching for the culprits.
At least four people were killed and others injured in Bangladesh after a passenger train caught fire in a suspected arson attack, according to police officials.
Friday’s incident adds to a tense atmosphere in the country ahead of Sunday’s elections, which the opposition is seeking to boycott and disrupt with a general strike.
Fire officer Rakjibul Hasan said that at around 9pm (1500 GMT), at least four carriages caught fire on the Benapole Express, which was arriving in the capital Dhaka from the western city of Jessore. The fire quickly destroyed the train.
Residents initially tried to put out the fire, before seven fire trucks joined the extinguishing efforts, Khandaker al-Moin of the police’s Rapid Action Battalion unit said at the scene. He said it took almost two hours to put out the fire.
Mohid Uddin, deputy chief of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, described the incident as an act of sabotage planned to create panic among citizens before the elections.
“We will definitely find out the culprits involved in such heinous attacks,” Uddin said.
Police chief Anwar Hossain also told AFP news agency: “We suspect that the fire incident was an act of sabotage,” without giving further details.
An anonymous rescuer told private broadcaster Somoy TV that hundreds of people had rushed to get people off the burning train.
“We rescued many. But the fire spread quickly,” he stated. Somoy TV said some Indian nationals were also traveling on the train.
Bangladesh has frequently experienced violence around elections, and Sunday’s vote comes amid an increasingly polarized political culture led by two powerful women: current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, leader of the opposition currently under house arrest.
This year, following Hasina’s refusal to accept Zia’s Bangladesh National Party (BNP) demands for a neutral caretaker government to conduct the elections, the BNP has opted to boycott the elections.
Meanwhile, at least three people have died in violence attributed to political clashes since the election campaign officially began on December 18.
The campaign officially came to an end on Friday morning, but there is widespread speculation that this vote, in which Hasina could win a fourth consecutive term and a fifth overall term, will be altered.
The international community has expressed concern about the conduct of the vote.
Charles Whiteley, the European Union ambassador to the country, said in a letter to the Bangladesh Election Commission that the bloc would not send a full team of observers because “it is not sufficiently clear whether the necessary conditions will be met.”
The UN Secretary-General’s deputy spokesperson, Florencia Soto Niño, said in New York on Wednesday: “We are closely watching the process and hope that all elections will be held in a transparent and organized manner.”
On Thursday, Hasina, at a large campaign rally in Fatullah, near Dhaka, urged everyone to maintain peace.
The Election Commission has announced that elections will be held on Sunday in 299 constituencies out of 300 across the country.