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Two die as police fire on protesters in Dhaka

Updated July 17, 2013

DHAKA, July 16: Bangladesh police shot dead two anti-government demonstrators on Tuesday as machete-wielding protesters went on the rampage in protest at the jailing of a senior Islamic party leader for war crimes.

Several thousand supporters of the country’s largest Islamic party, Jamaat-i-Islami, took to the streets in the southwestern district of Satkhira, attacking police with sticks and machetes and throwing homemade bombs, officers said.

Jamaat supporters set upon one officer as police tried to clear a road blocked by fallen trees in the town of Kaliganj in the district.

“They hacked him (the officer) with a machete. We opened fire at them to rescue the officer. Two Jamaat activists were hit by bullets and they died,” district deputy police chief Tajul Islam said, adding that eight other police officers were injured.

Violence also flared elsewhere over Monday’s conviction of 90-year-old Professor Ghulam Azam by a controversial war crimes court for masterminding atrocities during the 1971 war.

Jamaat activists torched buses and cars in the second largest city Chittagong during clashes with police who retaliated by firing rubber bullets, police officer Nazrul Islam told AFP.

Jamaat and secular groups called rival strikes after the tribunal sentenced Mr Azam to 90 years in prison on five charges of planning, conspiracy, incitement, complicity and murder.

Jamaat, a key member of the opposition, says the trials are politically motivated and aimed at eliminating its leaders. But ruling Awami League and secular groups say Mr Azam should have been hanged.

Earlier verdicts against Jamaat activists, including three death sentences, plunged the country into its worst political violence since independence. At least 150 people have been killed in clashes with police and paramilitary forces since the first sentence was passed in January.

Prosecutors had sought execution for Mr Azam, describing him as a ‘lighthouse’ he guided all war criminals and the ‘architect’ of the militias who committed many of the atrocities during the war against Pakistan.

When India militarily intervened at the end of the nine-month war and it became clear Pakistan was losing, the militias killed dozens of professors, playwrights, filmmakers, doctors and journalists.

Businesses and shops were shut nationwide for the strike which started on Monday and roads and highways were largely empty, bringing inter-district transport to a halt.

Security was tight in the capital Dhaka, with thousands of police patrolling the streets.

Tuesday’s shooting deaths bring the total number, who had been died in violence surrounding Prof Azam’s conviction, to five.

Protests erupted even before the verdict was announced on Monday, with at least three people killed, including two protesters shot dead by police in the northwestern town of Shibganj.—AFP