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Bangladesh tense amid war crime protests

Protester killed during strike after government amends law to allow retrial of politicians charged with war crimes.
Last Modified: 18 Feb 2013 17:48

Bangladesh continues to face political and social unrest over trial of opposition Jamaat-e-Islami leaders accused of involvement in murder and other atrocities during country's liberation war in 1971.

Police on Monday shot dead a protester in demonstrations in eastern Bangladesh amid a nationwide strike called by the Jamaat-e-Islami party.

Authorities kept schools and colleges open and many businesses reopened on Monday.

Jamaat, the country's largest Islamic party, called the strike to protest against the death last Friday of four of its activists in police shooting in the southeastern city of Cox's Bazaar.

At least 14 people have been killed so far during protests against government trials of Jamaat leaders.

Monday’s violence erupted in the town of Chouddogram, a day after Bangladesh parliament amended war crime laws to allow groups, not just individuals, to be prosecuted for war crimes.

The amendment will "empower the tribunals to try and punish any organisations, including Jamaat-e-Islami, for committing crimes during country's liberation war in 1971", Shafique Ahmed, Bangladesh law minister, said.

Amendment cheered

Tens of thousands of demonstrators have been camping in the central Shahbag Square in the capital, Dhaka, for the last couple of weeks demanding capital punishment for those found guilty.

The protests come after a tribunal this month sentenced a prominent Jamaat-e-Islami leader to life in prison in connection with Bangladesh's 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.

The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of Begum Khaleda Zia, former prime minister, and its Jamaat allies have been boycotting sessions almost since her rival, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, the current prime minister, took office in 2009.

Protests erupted after Abdul Quader Mollah, Jamaat's assistant secretary-general, was sentenced to life for murder, rape and torture.

Lawyers said Sunday's amendment sets a timetable for the government to appeal against Mollah's sentence and secure a retrial.

The previous law did not allow state prosecutors to call for a retrial except in the case of acquittals.

Politicians on trial

In its first verdict last month, the tribunal sentenced a former Jamaat leader, Abul Kamal Azad, to death in absentia for similar offences.

Eight other Jamaat leaders, including its current and former chiefs, are being tried by the tribunal, set up in 2010 to investigate abuses during the 1971 conflict.

Tens of thousand of pro-liberation Bengalis were killed during the war, many by pro-Pakistani militias whose members allegedly included Jamaat officials.

Supporters of Jamaat have held rallies to question the war tribunal’s neutrality.

They have described the tribunal as politically motivated and demanded that the Jamaat leaders be tried under the auspices of the UN.

The BNP has accused Hasina's Awami League-led government of using the tribunal as a weapon against its opponents.

Hasina has denied the allegation.

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