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Reports: At Least 35 Killed In Bangladesh Riots

At least 35 people have been killed in violent riots sparked by the death sentence handed down by a special tribunal to an Islamist political party leader convicted of committing war crimes during the 1971 independence war, media reports citing authorities said late on Thursday.

The riots broke out after hundreds of thousands of activists belonging to the Jamaat-e-Islami party took to the streets to protest against the death penalty awarded to the party's Vice-President Delwar Hossain Sayedee.

Police reportedly resorted to firing on protesters in several places, resulting in the death of at least 17. The remaining causalities occurred as enraged Jamaat-e-Islami activists clashed with police across the nation. Those killed in the violence reportedly included four policemen.

Riots broke out hours after the International Crimes Tribunal of Bangladesh sentenced Sayedee to death after finding him guilty of charges including murder, torture and rape
committed during the country's 1971 independence war. His followers allege that the sentencing was politically motivated.

Twelve people are standing trial at the Tribunal in cases relating to crimes committed during the independence struggle. They include nine Jamaat leaders, a Muslim cleric and two members of the the Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

The Tribunal handed down its first verdict in January by sentencing to death well-known Muslim cleric Abul Kalam Azad. The cleric in exile was charged with murdering Hindus and raping their women during the war that liberated Bangladesh from Pakistan.

Early this month, the Tribunal sentenced Abdul Kader Mullah, Assistant Secretary-General of the Jamaat-e-Islami Party, to life in prison on charges of murder and five other crimes. The verdict triggered wide-spread protests demanding death penalty for Kader Mullah.

Subsequently, Bangladesh's Parliament amended the country's war crimes law to allow the State to appeal against the life sentence handed down to Kader Mullah. The amendment also allows the prosecution and potential ban of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, which had supported Pakistan in the independence war.

Incidentally, the Jamaat is a close ally of the Opposition BNK. Although protesters who demanded the amendment have welcomed its adoption, both Jamaat and the BNK dismissed it as politically motivated.

An estimated three million people were killed in the 1971 war that Bangladesh won against Pakistan with the help of the Indian Army and secured its independence. The independence war followed a popular uprising triggered by the jailing of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, after he led his Awami League to victory in elections.

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