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By Ruma Paul
DHAKA, May 9 (Reuters) - A Bangladesh war crimes tribunal convicted and sentenced an Islamist party leader to death on Thursday, raising fears of a repeat of clashes between police and protesters after similar sentences were handed down earlier this year.
Mohammad Kamaruzzaman, 61, assistant secretary general of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, was found guilty of genocide and torture of unarmed civilians during the 1971 war for independence from Pakistan, lawyers and tribunal officials said.
War veterans were among hundreds who cheered the verdict, the fourth reached by the tribunal with more to come, on the street outside the court.
Bangladesh, reeling from a garment factory collapse that killed more than 900 people, has been rocked by protests and counter-protests related to the complex legacy of the independence war in recent months.
The protests are one of the main challenges facing the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who opened an inquiry into abuses committed during the war in 2010.
Leading defence lawyer Abdur Razzaq rejected the verdict and sentence and said Kamaruzzaman would appeal.
Bangladesh became part of Pakistan at the end of British colonial rule of India in 1947. But the country, then known as East Pakistan, won independence with India's help in December 1971 following the nine-month war against then West Pakistan.
The recent unrest began in January when the tribunal sentenced to death in absentia a leader of Jamaat. Thousands took to the streets in February demanding the execution of another Jamaat leader after he was jailed for life on similar charges.
More than 100 people have been killed in clashes this year, most of them Islamist party activists and members of the security forces.
"We are happy with the verdict as it fulfils the demands of the countrymen, especially the young generation," said Imran Sarker, who gave up his medical practice to lead the movement demanding the death penalty for all war criminals.
Jamaat and the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) both accuse the prime minister of using the tribunal to persecute them. The government denies the charge.
The tribunal has been criticized by rights groups for failing to adhere to international standards. Human Rights Watch said lawyers, witnesses and investigators reported they had been threatened. (Additional reporting by Serajul Quadir; Editing by Matthew Green and Nick Macfie)