Troops deployed in Bangladesh as riot death toll climbs

Protesters gather and shout slogans during a demonstration against Jamaat-e-Islami, in Dhaka. Photograph: Monirul Alam/ Monirul Alam/ZUMA Press/Corbis
Protesters gather and shout slogans during a demonstration against Jamaat-e-Islami, in Dhaka. Photograph: Monirul Alam/ Monirul Alam/ZUMA Press/Corbis

Soldiers were deployed in northern Bangladesh on Sunday after five people died in clashes between police and Islamist party activists during a nationwide general strike called to denounce war crimes trials. Seven people died in similar clashes in the north-west, police and news reports said.

With the latest casualties, the death toll in four days of rioting climbed to 58. The clashes began on Thursday after a war crimes tribunal sentenced a leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh’s largest Islamist party, to death for atrocities committed during Bangladesh’s 1971 independence war against Pakistan.

Delwar Hossain Sayedee was the third defendant to be convicted by the tribunal, which was set up in 2010 by the government of the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina Wajed.

Bangladesh says the war left 3 million people dead, 200,000 women were raped and millions fled to neighbouring India.

Police in Bogra district said the deployment of troops there followed the death of five men in clashes on Sunday. Police said the latest violence erupted when Jamaat-e-Islami activists are said to have attacked at least four police outposts and an Awami League office, and torched the home of a local ruling party leader.

Authorities banned all gatherings in Bogra to stop any further escalation of violence.

Separately, three people, including a child, died in violence in the north-western district of Rajshahi, the Daily Star newspaper and Independent television station TV reported. Details were not immediately available and the reports could not be independently verified. Another three people were killed in clashes between police and Jamaat activists in Joypurhar district, a local police official said. Joypurhat is 130 miles north-west of Dhaka, the capital. A policeman was killed in similar clashes in western Jhenaidah district, the Daily Star reported.

In Dhaka, schools and most businesses remained closed on Sunday while traffic on the usually clogged streets was thin during the first day of a two-day nationwide strike called by Jamaat-e-Islami. Thousands of security officials patrolled the streets, according to the Dhaka Metropolitan Police.

Meanwhile, the government filed an appeal with the supreme court seeking the death penalty for another Jamaat leader, Abdul Quader Mollah, the attorney general, Mahbube Alam, said. Last month, Mollah was convicted of mass killings during the 1971 war. He received a life sentence, a penalty the prosecution considered too lenient.

Seven other Jamaat leaders, including its chief, Matiur Rahman Nizami, are on trial on war crimes charges. The party is accused of forming auxiliary forces that helped the Pakistani army in killing and other serious crimes during the war.

Jamaat, which opposed Bangladesh’s struggle for freedom in 1971 but denies committing atrocities, called for a non-stop shutdown across the country for Sunday and Monday to protest at the trials. The United Nations, the United States and the New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch have all expressed their concerns over the violence and urged all sides to stop the fighting.

Jamaat is a partner in Bangladesh’s main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist party, which is led by the former prime minister Khaleda Zia, and was a partner in Zia’s government from 2001 to 2006.

Zia says the war crimes trials are politically motivated to target the opposition, an allegation denied by the government. Zia’s party has called for a nationwide general strike for Tuesday.

Source: The Guardian


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