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South Asia

Bangladesh police fire on Islamist protesters

Police in Bangladesh have fired on Islamist protesters, leaving several demonstrators dead. Tensions in the South Asian nation are boiling over, as the government tries leading Islamists figures for war crimes.

Thousands of Islamists took the streets of Bangladesh on Sunday in nationwide strikes, engaging in violent clashes with police that left at least three people dead.

According to police, some 3,000 Islamists tried to barricade a highway at Singair in the Manikganj district, not from the national capital, Dhaka. Many of the protesters were students from religious schools, called madrasas, and supporters of Islamist political parties.

“They attacked us with machetes, sticks, bricks and firearms from three sides when we tried to clear the barricade,” Deputy Police Chief Mizanur Rahman told the AFP news agency. “We fired back in self defense.”

An alliance of 12 opposition Islamist parties called the Sunday strikes, in response to police action against Islamist demonstrations on Friday. Those demonstrations, which attracted tens of thousands, left four people dead - three from police fire - and 200 wounded. Two people were also killed during clashes between Islamists and police on Saturday.

Controversial war crimes trials

Islamists have been protesting government-sponsored war crimes trials against 10 leaders of the main Islamist party, Jammat-E-Islami. The accused allegedly facilitated rape and genocide during Bangladesh's 1971 independence war against Pakistan. Jammat-E-Islami opposed independence for Bangladesh, at that time called East Pakistan.

Party leader Abdul Quader Mollah was convicted on February 5 and sentenced to life in prison. But bloggers have been calling for all of the accused to face the death penalty. One of the bloggers, Ahmed Rajib Haider, was hacked to death last week near his home in Dhaka.

“The imam of the local mosque used a loudspeaker to rally the protesters,” Deputy Police Chief Rahman said, describing Sunday's demonstrations. “They were shouting slogans for the execution of the bloggers, accusing them of being non-believers and atheists.”

Nearly 90 percent of Bangladesh's 161 million people are Muslim, while fewer than 10 percent are Hindus.

slk/ipj (AP, AFP, dpa)