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Protests hit Bangladesh after war crimes verdict

Source : AP
Last Updated: Wed, Feb 06, 2013 15:00 hrs

Police and protesters clashed for the second day Wednesday after the conviction of a powerful politician in connection with killings during the country's 1971 independence war. More than two dozen small homemade bombs also exploded in the country's north, but there were no reports of injuries.

Local news reports said at least 10 people were hurt Wednesday in clashes outside Dhaka, a day after the latest verdict was announced in a series of controversial war crimes trials. Street battles across the country Tuesday killed as many as four people and injured dozens more.

The clashes came after Bangladesh's largest Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islami, ordered a nationwide general strike, shutting down schools and shops, to protest the conviction and life sentence given its leader, Abdul Quader Mollah.

Opposition politicians and human rights organizations have questioned the fairness of the trials into the 40-year-old violence.

Because of the strike, traffic was thin Wednesday on Dhaka's usually clogged streets and schools and most businesses were closed in major cities and towns across the country.

Despite tight security in the capital, with security forces patrolling the streets, television footage showed protesters throwing stones at police. A local news agency, bdnews24.com, reported that police fired rubber bullets and teargas to disperse protesters in Narayanganj district near Dhaka, leaving at least 10 people injured.

Local media also reported that at least 25 homemade bombs exploded Wednesday in the northeastern district of Sylhet, but there were no reports of injuries or damage.

Up to four people reportedly died Tuesday in clashes between police and party activists in Chittagong, 135 miles (215 kilometers) southeast of Dhaka.

On Tuesday, Mollah was convicted of killing a student and a family of 11 and of aiding Pakistani troops in killing 369 other people. Defense lawyer Abdur Razzaq said he will appeal the verdict.

Opposition leaders have criticized the war crimes trials as an effort to weaken challengers to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government. Human rights groups have raised concerns about the trials' fairness.

Mollah and five other Jamaat leaders have been charged with committing atrocities during the country's nine-month independence war against Pakistan. Last month, the tribunal hearing the cases sentenced former party member Abul Kalam Azad to death in the first verdict.

The tribunal was formed by Hasina's government in 2010. Jamaat-e-Islami, a key ally of opposition leader Khaleda Zia, says the trials are politically motivated, and Zia, a former prime minister, has called the tribunal a farce. Authorities deny the claims.

International human rights groups have raised questions about the conduct of the tribunals, including the disappearance — outside the courthouse gates — of a defense witness who was about to testify.

Until it gained independence in 1971, Bangladesh was part of Pakistan, but was geographically separate from the rest of the country. Jamaat campaigned against Bangladesh's independence war and has been accused of forming several groups to help Pakistani troops in killing, rape and arson. The government says Pakistani troops, aided by local collaborators, killed 3 million people and raped 200,000 women.




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