War crime trial: Bangladesh violence toll rises to 46



Dhaka: Violence continued unabated in Bangladesh on Friday as at least 46 people were killed in clashes that erupted after a top leader of fundamentalist Jamaat-e- Islami was handed down death penalty for "crimes against humanity" during the 1971 liberation war.

The violence broke out after 73-year-old Delwar Hossain Sayedee, vice-president of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), was sentenced to death by International Crimes Tribunal.

At least 42 people were killed yesterday in rioting triggered by the death sentence to Sayedee, who was found guilty of eight counts out of 20, involving rape, mass killings and atrocities during the 1971 freedom war against Pakistan.

Fresh violence erupted today killing three people in Gaibandha and Chapainawabganj districts and one policeman succumbed to his wounds sustained in clashes yesterday.

Officials said that law enforcement agencies appeared to be the prime target of the right-wing JI activists.

The situation prompted local authorities to enforce ban on gathering of more than four people under section 144 of Criminal Procedure Code in troubled areas, five northwestern and one southwestern district, said to be JI strongholds.

Many others, including policemen, were also injured when the supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir clashed with police and ruling party men in different locations in the country.

Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse Jamaat protesters in the capital Dhaka leaving several people injured, police said.

Meanwhile, in a major development main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chief Khaleda Zia today extended its open support to its extreme right-wing ally JI.

Zia accused Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of influencing the war crimes trial saying that she was standing by non-partisan youngsters who are demanding capital punishment for the top war criminals.

"No judge (of the war crimes tribunal) can now independently try the accused after her (Hasina's) call asking them to be sympathetic to the demands for death sentences to the war criminals," Zia told reporters.

JI earlier called for a 48-hour nationwide general strike from Sunday to mount pressures to thwart the trial process as Zia called an identical stoppage on Wednesday demanding resignation of the government.

Sayedee was the third JI politician to be convicted by the International Crimes Tribunal since the trial of war crimes suspects, mostly belonging to the Islamist group, began three years ago.

In the first verdict of the tribunal in January, former Jamaat leader Abul Kalam Azad was sentenced to death on similar charges.

Another Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Mollah was sentenced to life in February for atrocities during the war.

Paramilitary border guards have been deployed across the country to beef up security and ease tension that has gripped the nation following convictions of Islamist leaders over war crimes committed during the 1971 independence war.

"Our troops were deployed in 15 troubled districts in aide of civil administration... BGB (Border Guard Bangladesh) has been kept alert so it could move immediately wherever they are required," BGB chief major General Aziz Ahmed told PTI.

A police spokesman, meanwhile, said law enforcement agencies were on high alert as Jamaat and Sayedee's supporters planned more protests.

Meanwhile, several thousand people converged on Shahbagh intersection as the youths demanding death penalty to all war criminals started a public rally this afternoon.

People from all walks of life imbued with the spirit of '71 started to throng the Shahbagh since noon as the demonstration stepped into 25th straight day.

They chanted anti-Jamaat-Shibir slogans and anti-strike slogans. Also, tens of thousands of youngsters, joined by 1971 veterans and ruling Awami League supporters, took to the streets in Dhaka and other major cities yesterday to celebrate the verdict against Sayedee.

Violence erupted yesterday as activists of JI clashed with security forces, denouncing the judgement.

The Jamaat activists also clashed with rival activists, beat to death four policemen, attacked their camps and snatched away their weapons, set ablaze offices of the ruling Awami League at their strongholds and at different places across the country.

The four policemen were killed in north-western Gaibandha, one of the worst scenes of the violence, where fresh unrest today left one ruling Awami League activist dead.

Another policeman succumbed to his injuries today, raising the number of security personnel killed in the violence to five.

Four police constables were injured in a cocktail explosion in the port city of Chittagong this afternoon.

Inspector general of police Hassan Mahmud Khondker said JI could have launched their attacks targeting police in recent period as part of their strategy to terrorise the country but universally "police are trained to tackle any such situation".

"We are not frightened (as) Bangladesh police inherits the glory of the force in resisting Pakistani troops on the 25th March, 1971 (at Razarbagh)....The question of losing morals or getting afraid does not arise in the face of attacks by a group of handful people," the police chief said.

Railway officials said south-eastern Chittagong port city's train link with Dhaka and north-eastern Sylhet were remained snapped as suspected JI activists uprooted fishplates of railway tracks last night.

"Six compartments of an intercity train were derailed as they (suspected activists) uprooted the fishplates on Dhaka-Chittagong route...Fortunately no casualty was reported as the train slowed down as it was entering a nearby station at Feni," a railway police official said.

PTI