By JULFIKAR ALI MANIK and JIM YARDLEY
DHAKA, Bangladesh — Bangladesh had yet another day of bloodshed on Sunday, as at least 19 people died in angry skirmishes between the police and supporters of the country’s biggest Islamist political party. The supporters were protesting the recent convictions of their leaders by a special tribunal prosecuting accused war criminals from the country’s 1971 struggle for liberation.
The latest violence occurred outside the national capital, Dhaka, and seemed certain to deepen the already bitter tensions between the country’s leading political parties. In the district of Bogra, the government temporarily deployed military units on Sunday after followers of the country’s biggest Islamist political party, Jamaat-e-Islami, attacked a local police station, the authorities said. At least nine people died in Bogra.
Sunday’s bloodshed came as Jamaat-e-Islami and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, the main opposition party, were staging the first day of a three-day nationwide shutdown strike to protest the proceedings at the war crimes tribunal.
Last week, Delawar Hossain Sayedee, a top Jamaat-e-Islami leader, was sentenced to death for crimes against humanity during the 1971 war. Since then, more than 60 people, including 6 police officers, have died in clashes between the Islamist party’s supporters and security officers.
Each side has blamed the other for the violence. Jamaat-e-Islami supporters have accused the police of provoking the confrontations and deliberately killing protesters, though the authorities say followers of the group, as well as members of its youth wing, have attacked police officers, set fire to cars and trains, and rampaged in different cities.
“They want to create panic and weaken the law and order situation in the country by killing police,” said A. K. M. Shahidul Haque, the additional inspector general of the Bangladeshi police.
Bangladesh, a largely Muslim country with roughly 160 million people, won its liberation from Pakistan in a 1971 war in which an estimated three million people were killed and thousands of women were raped. Pakistani soldiers were aided during the conflict by local collaborators. Jamaat-e-Islami opposed independence during the war, but its leaders have denied committing any atrocities against their countrymen.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, leader of the governing Awami League, established the war crimes tribunal in 2010 to prosecute unpunished atrocities from the liberation war. But the proceedings have been marred with irregularities; the chief judge resigned after disclosures that he had improperly contacted a legal analyst with questions about drafting verdicts — the same legal analyst who was also advising prosecutors.
The war crimes proceedings unexpectedly stirred a major public uprising on Feb. 5, after a different Jamaat-e-Islami leader, Abdul Quader Mollah, was convicted but only sentenced to life in prison. Youthful protesters, led by bloggers, turned out in Dhaka for what became enormous peaceful protests demanding the execution of Mr. Mollah and all other war criminals.
One of the organizers, Ahmed Rajib Haider, was brutally killed. Last week, the police arrested five university students in Dhaka and said an activist with the Islamist party’s youth wing had helped mastermind the killing.
“We are looking for him, and we can’t disclose his name for the sake of the investigation,” said Monirul Islam, of the detective branch of the Bangladeshi police.
Julfikar Ali Manik reported from Dhaka, and Jim Yardley from New Delhi.
Source: New York Times