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Bangladesh war crimes verdict protests turn deadly

By Farid Ahmed, for CNN
updated 4:19 AM EST, Sat February 16, 2013
Tens of thousands join a sit-in at Shahbagh Square in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Friday, demanding the death penalty war crimes.
Tens of thousands join a sit-in at Shahbagh Square in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Friday, demanding the death penalty war crimes.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Six deaths reported in recent days
  • Protesters are angry over what they consider to be lenient sentences
  • The protesters, many of them students, are demanding the death penalty

Dhaka, Bangladesh (CNN) -- Protests over a war-crimes trial verdict in Bangladesh have resulted in at least six deaths here in the capital city of Dhaka and in the southeast tourist city of Cox's Bazar, police said Friday.

The incidents stem from February 5, when an International War Crimes Tribunal sentenced Abdul Quader Mollah, a leader of the Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami, to life in prison on war-crimes charges -- including murder -- that date back to the country's war of independence in 1971.

Shortly afterward the sentence was announced, throngs of people -- most of them young -- formed a sit-in in Dhaka's Shahbagh Square, demanding that those who were involved in crimes during the war of independence be sentenced to death.

The protesters, many of them students, demanded that Mollah's penalty be changed to death.

Protests have also taken place 450 kilometers (280 miles) southeast of the capital in Cox's Bazar, where at least three people were killed Friday when Jamaat-e-Islami activists clashed with police, police said.

The incident occurred when hundreds of activists from Jamaat and its student wing, Islami Chhatra Shibir, left the city's mosques following Friday's noon prayers and attacked police. They were demanding the release of their leader, Delwar Hossain Sayedee, who also faces war-crimes charges dating back more than four decades.

In protest, Jamaat-e-Islami called a nationwide general strike for Monday, a party statement said.

In the Mirpur section of Dhaka, police recovered on Friday night the body of Ahmed Rajib Haider, who had participated in the Shahbagh Square protests.

Police said masked men wielding machetes and knives attacked the young architect and blogger in front of his residence in Pallabi, Mirpur, and then fled.

No one has claimed responsibility for the killing.

Meanwhile, demonstrators have vowed to continue protesting at Shahbagh and have asked the government to ban Jamaat-e-Islami, which sided with Pakistan and opposed the 1971 founding of Bangladesh.

Jamaat-e-Islami said its members would continue to protest as many of its leaders were behind bars facing charges of murder, arson, looting and rape stemming from the war of independence.

They said the war-crimes trials, begun after more than 40 years of independence, were being carried out with "ill political motive."

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has shown no sign of backing down, saying the trials will be completed at any cost.

The government, which promised in its election pledges in 2008 to complete the war-crimes trials, set up the tribunals in 2010.

Amid tight security, a three-member panel of judges of the International Crimes Tribunal-2 delivered the judgment against 64-year-old Mollah, who in 1971 was the chief of the students' wing of Jamaat-e-Islami.

Mollah is the first Jamaat-e-Islami leader convicted in a war-crimes case by the tribunal.

Bangladesh formed the eastern part of Pakistan until it gained independence in 1971 in a war that killed 3 million people.

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