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DHAKA: At least 34 people were killed in Bangladesh in a wave of violence yesterday as Islamists reacted furiously to a ruling that one of their leaders must hang for war crimes during the 1971 independence conflict.
At least 23 of them were shot in clashes between police and protesters after Delwar Hossain Sayedee, the Jamaat-e-Islami party’s Vice-President, was found guilty of war crimes, including murder, arson and rape.
Sayedee is the third person to be convicted by the controversial domestic tribunal whose previous verdicts have also been met with outrage from Islamists who say the process is more about score settling than delivering justice.
The latest unrest brought the overall death toll to 50 since the first verdict on January 21. Among yesterday’s dead were four policemen, two of whom were beaten to death after protesters hurled small homemade bombs at a police station in Gaibandha in the north and attacked it with sticks. About 300 people, including scores of policemen, were injured.
Police also reported attacks on several Hindu homes and temples in the southern Noakhali and Chittagong districts. Security forces had been braced for trouble ahead of the verdict against Sayedee, who reacted to the judgement by saying it had been influenced by “atheists” and pro-government protesters seeking his execution.
Sayedee, a firebrand preacher, was convicted for setting ablaze 25 homes in a Hindu village and abetting the murders of two people including a Hindu man. He led a pro-Pakistani militia who abducted three Hindu sisters and raped them for three days at a Pakistani camp, said the verdict. He also forced at least 100 Hindus to convert and made them say Islamic prayers.
His lawyer Tajul Islam said Sayedee did not live in the town at the time when the alleged crimes took place. “We’re going to appeal the verdict,” he said. Under a newly amended war crimes law, the appeal process must be completed within 90 days, meaning Sayedee would be hanged later this year if the country’s highest court upholds the verdict.