Bangladesh war crimes verdict sparks deadly clashes

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Roadblock set up by Jamaat activists in GaibandhaImage source, Bangla Focus
Image caption,
Jamaat supporters blocked roads in Gaibandha, where a police station was attacked

At least 30 people have died in clashes in Bangladesh sparked by a death sentence handed to a senior Islamist leader for war crimes.

A tribunal sentenced Delwar Hossain Sayeedi to death for crimes including murder, torture and rape during the country's 1971 war of independence.

The verdict was cheered by his opponents but supporters of his Jamaat-e-Islami party clashed with police.

Jamaat say that the tribunal is biased against the party.

Sayeedi is the third person to be convicted by the tribunal so far, and the most senior.

As well as those killed, hundreds were injured in clashes between police and Jamaat supporters across the country.

In the northern Gaibandha district, three police officers were beaten to death when about 2,000 Jamaat supporters went on the rampage in protest at the verdict and attacked a police station.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Delwar Hossain Sayeedi has denied all 19 charges against him

Police reported that a Hindu temple and houses belonging to Hindu families had been attacked in Noakhali.

Violence was reported in several other locations across the country.

Thousands of police were deployed in the capital Dhaka to maintain security there.

Angry demonstrations

Lawyers for Sayeedi say they plan to appeal in the Supreme Court.

Jamaat rejects the tribunal and staged a strike on Thursday in protest. After the verdict was announced it called a further two-day stoppage for Sunday and Monday.

The party was opposed to Bangladeshi independence but denies any role in war crimes committed by pro-Pakistan militias.

Official estimates say more than three million people were killed in the war.

On hearing the verdict, anti-Jamaat protesters who had gathered at a busy intersection in the city erupted into cheers.

The verdict is the third issued by the controversial tribunal, which is trying a total of nine Jamaat leaders and two members of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

Sayeedi was accused of working with the Al-Badr group during the independence struggle and carrying out numerous atrocities, including forcibly converting Hindus to Islam.

His critics say that during the war, he formed a small group to loot and seize the property of Bengali Hindus and those who supported independence.

The tribunal found Sayeedi guilty of eight out of the 20 charges levelled against him. These were murder, torture, rape and forcibly converting Hindus to Islam.

Earlier this month, another Jamaat leader, Abdul Kader Mullah, was sentenced to life for crimes against humanity.

In January, former party leader Abul Kalam Azad was found guilty in absentia of eight charges of crimes against humanity and sentenced to death.

Recent weeks have seen a series of angry demonstrations demanding the execution of Jamaat leaders being tried by the tribunal. But there have also been protests against the court.

The special court was set up in 2010 by the current Bangladeshi government to deal with those accused of collaborating with Pakistani forces who attempted to stop East Pakistan (as Bangladesh was then) from becoming an independent country.

But human rights groups have said the tribunal falls short of international standards.