Conviction of Islamist leader sparks more riots in Bangladesh

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 July, 2013, 1:27am


Bangladeshi police shot dead two Islamist demonstrators yesterday as machete-wielding protesters went on the rampage in protest at the jailing of a senior Islamist leader for war crimes.

Several thousand supporters of the country's largest Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islami, took to the streets in the southwestern district of Satkhira, attacking police with sticks and machetes and throwing homemade bombs, officers said.

Jamaat supporters attacked an officer as police tried to clear a road blocked by fallen trees in the town of Kaliganj in the district.

"They hacked [the officer] with a machete. We opened fire at them to rescue the officer. Two Jamaat activists were shot and died," district deputy police chief Tajul Islam said, adding that eight other police officers were injured.

Violence also flared elsewhere over Monday's conviction Ghulam Azam, 90, by a war crimes court for instigating atrocities in the 1971 war of independence.

Jamaat activists torched buses and cars in the second largest city Chittagong during clashes with police who retaliated by firing rubber bullets, police officer Nazrul Islam said.

Jamaat and secular groups called rival strikes after the tribunal sentenced Azam to 90 years in prison on five charges of planning, conspiracy, incitement, complicity and murder.

Jamaat, a key member of the opposition, says the trials are politically motivated and aimed at eliminating its leaders. But secular groups say Azam should have been hanged.

Azam, the spiritual leader of Jamaat and its leader during the war, was the fifth Islamist and the fourth Jamaat official convicted by the controversial court set up by the secular government. He was spared the death penalty because of his age and health.

Earlier verdicts against Jamaat activists, including three death sentences, plunged the country into its worst political violence since independence. At least 150 people have been killed since January.

Prosecutors had sought execution for Azam, describing him as a "lighthouse" who guided all war criminals and militias who committed many of the atrocities during the war against Pakistan.

The government maintains the trials are needed to heal the wounds of the 1971 war in which it says three million died. Independent estimates put the death toll at 300,000 to 500,000.