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South Asia

Deadly clashes over Bangladesh Islamist's death sentence

A controversial war crimes tribunal in Bangladesh has sentenced the Islamist leader Delwar Hossain Sayedee to death for crimes against humanity. At least 30 people have died in clashes following the ruling.

The court in the capital, Dhaka, found Sayedee, vice president of the opposition party Jamaat-e-Islami, guilty of mass killings, rape and other atrocities during Bangladesh's war for independence in 1971.

"The verdict has appropriately demonstrated justice," state prosecutor Syed Haider Ali told reporters. "We are happy."

"Justice has been done to those who lost their loved ones at the hands of Sayedee," he said.

Jamaat-e-Islami leader Delwar Hossain Sayedee (C) is escorted by security personnel as he emerges from the Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal in Dhaka on October 3, 2011. Sayedee, a leader in Bangladesh's largest Islamic party, will be tried at the tribunal set up last year to investigate those accused of crimes committed during the nine-month war against Pakistan in the country's 1971 war of independence. Judge Nizamul Huq read out the charges to Sayedee, 71, in a crowded Dhaka courtroom. If found guilty, Sayedee could face death by hanging. AFP PHOTO/ STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)

Sayedee is the third person to be tried by the controversial court

Sayedee's lawyer denounced Thursday's ruling, calling it politically motivated and telling the AFP news agency that it is a "gross miscarriage of justice."

Nationwide protests

Thursday's death sentence sparked nationwide widespread protests by supporters of Sayedee. Media, police and witness reports said at least 30 people were killed and more than 300 wounded after Jamaat activists clashed with police.

In Rangpur district, security forces fired rubber bullets and tear gas at dozens of Jamaat supporters who smashed vehicles and attacked an office of the ruling Awami League party, killing two people there, police said.

Local police chief Monur Rahman told AFP that two officers were also among the total dead. The officers were beaten to death after thousands of Jamaat supporters attacked a base in the northern district of Gaibandha.

"At least 10,000 Jamaat supporters attacked us with weapons," Rahman said, adding that two protesters were shot dead. "We were forced to open fire."

Controversial tribunal

Sayedee, 73, is the third and the most senior politician to be convicted by the controversial tribunal.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina established the tribunal in 2010 to carry out investigations into war crimes committed during the armed conflict that claimed an estimated 3 million lives.

Critics, among them the Bangladeshi opposition, have accused the tribunal of bias and of serving as the prime minister's instrument against opponents in the two biggest opposition parties, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat-e-Islami.

In January, cleric Abul Kalam Azad was convicted in absentia on charges of torture, rape and genocide in the struggle for independence. At least 10 other people are awaiting trial in similar cases.

Fighting broke out in early 1971 in a struggle for independence from Pakistan. With the aid of India, Bangladesh won its independence nine months later. 

Jamaat-e-Islami enforced a nationwide general strike Thursday to denounce the trial and demanded Sayedee be released from jail. Strikes were also announced for Sunday and Monday.

kms,dr/ (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)