Home / News / World /  Police fire on protesters in strike-hit Bangladesh

Dhaka: Bangladesh police shot dead two Islamist demonstrators on Tuesday 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 set upon one officer as police tried to clear a road blocked by fallen trees in the town of Kaliganj in the district.

“They hacked him (the officer) with a machete. We opened fire at them to rescue the officer. Two Jamaat activists were hit by bullets and they died," district deputy police chief Tajul Islam said, adding that eight other police officers were injured.

Violence also flared elsewhere over Monday’s conviction of 90-year-old Ghulam Azam by a war crimes court for masterminding atrocities during 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 told AFP.

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 have been killed in clashes with police and paramilitary forces since the first sentence was passed in January.

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

When India intervened at the end of the nine-month war conflict and it became clear Pakistan was losing, the militias killed dozens of professors, playwrights, filmmakers, doctors and journalists.

Businesses and shops were shut nationwide for the strike which started on Monday and roads and highways were largely empty, bringing inter-district transport to a halt.

Security was tight in the capital Dhaka, with thousands of police patrolling the streets.

Tuesday’s shooting deaths bring the total number who have died in violence surrounding Azam’s conviction to five.

Protests erupted even before the verdict was announced on Monday, with at least three people killed, including two protesters shot dead by police in the northwestern town of Shibganj.

The violence is unlikely to ease soon, with a verdict expected to be passed Wednesday on Jamaat’s second highest-ranking official, prosecutor Mukhlesur Rahman told AFP.

Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid, a minister in the previous government, faces the death penalty if convicted by the tribunal of seven war crimes charges, including mass killing, torture and abduction.

The opposition has criticised the war crimes cases as a politically exercise aimed at settling old scores rather than meting out justice.

Unlike other such courts, the Bangladesh tribunal is not endorsed by the United Nations. The New York-based Human Rights Watch group has said its procedures fall short of international standards.

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 between 300,000 and 500,000. AFP

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