A wave of violence has swept through Bangladesh after the hanging of an opposition leader convicted of war crimes committed during the bloody 1971 war of independence.
Fears that the execution of Abdul Quader Mollah, 65, the first person to be put to death for massacres committed during the war, were realised on Friday, as activists torched homes and businesses belonging to government supporters in a fresh wave of bloodshed ahead of elections next month.
Mollah was a senior leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party which has called the execution a “political murder” and warned of exacting revenge for “every drop” of his blood.
Two activists from the ruling Awami League were hacked to death in the southern town of Kalaroa, while Jamaat activists also firebombed train stations and blockaded roads, according to police sources.
One person died in clashes between police and Jamaat supporters in the southern district of Noakhali and a driver was reportedly killed after Jamaat protesters chased him down.
Opposition groups in Bangladesh also called for a countrywide strike on Sunday.
Deputy law minister Quamrul Islam announced Mollah’s execution, saying he was hanged by the neck on Friday in a jail in the capital, Dhaka.
“It’s an historic moment. Finally after four decades, the victims of the genocides of 1971 liberation war have got some justice,” Islam told the AFP news agency.
Finally after four decades, the victims of the genocides of 1971 liberation war have got some justice.
“It’s the best gift for [the] nation as we celebrate the Victory Day on December 16,” he said, referring to the national day that marked Bangladesh’s independence war victory against Pakistan.
The government says Pakistani soldiers, aided by local collaborators, killed 3 million people and raped 200,000 women during the war.
Thousands of secular protesters erupted in celebration as news of the execution came. They had been camping at Shahbagh square in Dhaka for days, shouting slogans including: “Hang Quader Mollah, hang war criminals”.
Mollah was found guilty in February of having been a leader of a pro-Pakistan militia which fought against the country’s independence and killed some of Bangladesh’s top professors, doctors, writers and journalists.
He was convicted of rape, murder and mass murder, including the killing of more than 350 unarmed civilians.
Mollah was one of five Islamists and other politicians sentenced to death by a much-criticised war tribunal, which the opposition says is aimed at eradicating its leaders.
Mollah was assistant secretary-general of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, which is barred from contesting elections but plays a key role in the opposition movement led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).
The sentences have plunged the country into its worst violence since independence.
About 231 people have been killed in street protests since January, when the verdicts were first handed down.
Critics of the tribunal say it has been used as a political tool by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is locked in a feud with BNP leader Begum Khaleda Zia, as a way of weakening the opposition as January 5 elections approach.