Strike over war crimes trials hits Bangladesh, 3 killed

Bangladesh Violence
Bangladesh was on the boil today as activists of the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami clashed with the police, leaving three people, including a constable, dead and several others injured, during a nationwide strike called to protest the 1971 war crimes trials.

The nationwide general strike was enforced by the Jamaat-e-Islami and backed by main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) to halt an ongoing trial of their top leaders for 1971 war crimes charges.

Two people were killed in northwestern Bogra in clashes between pro-government and Jamaat-e-Islami activists. The riot police used rubber bullets and tear gas on protesters in several troubled areas.

"One of the two (killed) is reported to be a Jamaat activist but there are confusions about the political identity of the other...but both succumbed to their wounds as they were being treated in a hospital after clashes at different parts of the Bogra town," a witness told PTI.

The third victim killed in the unrest was a policeman who died earlier in the morning at western Jessore district with the police saying that he died of a massive heart attack during clashes with the Jamaat-e-Islami activists.

Deputy commissioner or administrative chief of Bogra Sarwar Hossain said paramilitary Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) was kept at standby to be called out anytime.

Witnesses said Jamaat-e-Islami activists clashed with riot police at Satmatha area of Bogra town, leaving over a dozen people injured at the fag end of the strike hours.

Witnesses said vandalism, explosion of homemade bombs and torching of vehicles marked the general strike in the capital Dhaka and southeastern port city of Chittagong where police arrested over a dozen Jamaat-e-Islami activists.

Jamaat-e-Islami had called a half-day shutdown in the capital Dhaka and southeastern port city of Chittagong and day-long strike elsewhere in Bangladesh demanding release of their top leaders including incumbent party chief Matiur Rahman Nizami being tried for "crimes against humanity" during the India-backed 1971 Liberation War against Pakistan.

Inspector general of police (IGP) Hassan Mahmud Khandker earlier warned of tough actions against 'troublemakers' during the strike as authorities ordered intensified security vigils deploying elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and riot police who patrolled streets in the major cities.

"Stern action will be taken against the troublemakers," the police chief told reporters on the eve of the general strike.

Earlier this week, activists of Jamaat-e-Islami and their student affiliate Chhatra Shibir launched simultaneous attacks on police in major cities leaving dozens of members of the law enforcement agencies injured. They also set on fire and damaged a number of vehicles.

Jamaat-e-Islami, a crucial ally of the BNP-led opposition alliance, has been involved in violent protests as trials against their stalwarts were believed to have reached their fag ends in two special tribunals, which last month handed down death penalty to one fugitive who was a former anchor of Islamic programmes at a private television.

BNP extended their "moral support" to the shutdown in a statement last night.

While two of the 10 high profile war crime accused belonged to the main opposition party while the rests were Jamaat-e-Islami leaders.

Intensified police patrols were seen the capital today after yesterday's violence but suspected Jamaat-e-Islami activists torched two buses and damaged five others afresh in old Dhaka streets and fled the scene before police arrived.

Dozens of policemen, 21 of them in Dhaka, were injured as the extreme right-wing activists attacked them with homemade bombs in the capital, southwestern Chittagong and several northwestern districts yesterday.

Schools and major shopping malls were closed and most private cars were off the street but witnesses said the the countrywide train services, flight operations on domestic and international routes and ferry services and activities in seaports continued.

Activities of banks, insurances, Dhaka Stock Exchange and other commercial institutions continued as usual amid tight security vigils but with thin presence.

Jamaat-e-Islami was opposed to Bangladesh's 1971 independence from Pakistan while the party sided with Pakistani troops during the Liberation War when officially three million people were killed.

The fundamentalist party allegedly masterminded the murders of the country's leading intelligentsia including professors, doctors and journalists.

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