Death toll in Bangladesh war crimes clashes rises

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 March, 2013, 5:20pm
UPDATED : Friday, 01 March, 2013, 9:12pm


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The number of people killed in clashes in Bangladesh over the conviction of Islamist leaders for war crimes rose to 53 on Friday, as fresh outbursts of violence erupted.

Two people were killed after hundreds of pro-government supporters and followers of the rival Jamaat-e-Islami party fought with sticks in two northern districts of Gaibandha and Chapainawabganj, police chiefs said.

Police also fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse Jamaat protesters in the capital Dhaka, after they tried to launch marches following weekly prayers, leaving several people injured, police said.

On Thursday, violence flared across the country after Jamaat’s vice president was sentenced to death for murder, religious persecution and rape during the 1971 independence war.

Firebrand preacher Delwar Hossain Sayedee, 73, was the third person to be convicted by a war crimes tribunal whose verdicts have been met by outrage from Islamists who say the process is more about settling scores than delivering justice.

At least 35 people were killed in Thursday’s unrest, according to an AFP toll compiled after talking to police in 15 districts where protests have turned deadly.

Twenty-three of those killed on Thursday were shot dead after police opened fire on thousands of rampaging Jamaat supporters who attacked law-enforcers with sticks and stones.

According to Sultana Kamal, head of rights group Ain O Salish Kendra, it was the deadliest political day of violence since independence was won from Pakistan in 1971.

Friday’s killings brought the total number killed since the tribunal delivered its first verdict on January 21 to 53, police said.

Jamaat, which has rejected the court’s verdicts as politically motivated, put the death toll from Thursday’s violence at 50, saying its “innocent” supporters were shot dead by police who “hunted them like birds”.

Security was tightened around thousands of mosques across the Muslim-majority nation ahead of weekly prayers on Friday, with border guards posted in major cities.

“We’ve deployed police intelligence inside mosques and plain-clothed police outside,” Mehedi Hasan, deputy Dhaka police commissioner, said.

Police have banned a number of planned demonstrations at several trouble spots while the country’s biggest mosque, Baitul Mokarram, locked some of its gates to limit numbers.

Security was stepped up in Hindu villages and temples after homes and places of worships were torched and vandalised by Islamists in the southern Noakhali and Chittagong districts, killing one Hindu man, police said.

The war crimes tribunal has been shaken by controversies and allegations that it is targeting only the opposition with trumped-up charges. Rights groups say its legal procedures fall short of international standards.

The government rejects the accusations, saying the tribunal is independent and the trials are fair and necessary to heal the wounds of the war it says claimed three million lives.

It accuses Jamaat leaders of being part of pro-Pakistani militias blamed for much of the 1971 carnage. Independent estimates put the war death toll much lower at between 300,000 and 500,000.