35 killed in protests over death penalty for Bangla leader

A top leader of Bangladesh's fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami was Thursday sentenced to death for "crimes against humanity" during the 1971 liberation war against Pakistan, triggering widespread clashes across the country that left at least 35 people dead.

Delwar Hossain Sayedee, vice-president of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), was handed down death penalty by a special war crimes tribunal after he was found guilty of eight counts out of 20 involving mass killings, rape and atrocities during the nine-month war against Pakistan.

"He (Delwar Hossain Sayedee) will be hanged by neck till he is dead," pronounced chairman of the three-judge International Crimes Tribunal Justice A T M Fazle Kabir.

Soon after the verdict the JI members went on rampage, sparking violence across the country that left at least 32 people dead, authorities said.

Earlier, the party, Muslim-majority Bangladesh's largest Islamic bloc, enforced a nationwide general strike to denounce the trial and to demand Sayedee's acquittal.

Of the deceased, six people, including three cops, were killed in Gaibandha, four in Thakurgaon, three in Satkhira, two each in Rangpur, Noakhali, Chittagong, Moulvibazar and Sirajganj while one each in Dinajpur, Natore, Cox's Bazar and Chapainawabganj. Five deaths were also reported from other parts of the country.

Meanwhile, JI has called a 48-hour nationwide strike from Sunday protesting the death penalty for Sayedee.

Amiruzzaman, Jamaat chief of Chittagong (North), said the party would organise special prayers on Friday and stage protest rallies on Saturday across the country.

Sayedee is the third JI politician to be convicted by the Tribunal since the trial of war crimes suspects, mostly belonging to the Islamist group, began three years ago.

Sayedee's chief counsel Abdur Razzak said they would file an appeal against the verdict before the apex Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.

In violence that erupted, several thousand supporters of the Islamic party attacked a police outpost in Sundarganj upazila area of Gaibandha. They beat three policemen to death and set fire to the outpost.

Meanwhile, Shibir men vandalised at least 60 vehicles in Satkania upazila on the Chittagong-Cox's Bazar highway.

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