Clashes before Bangladesh verdict

2013-07-15 10:09
Former head of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party, Ghulam Azam, is escorted by security personnel and lawyers as he emerges from the Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal. (Munir Uz Zaman, AFP)

Former head of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party, Ghulam Azam, is escorted by security personnel and lawyers as he emerges from the Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal. (Munir Uz Zaman, AFP)

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Dhaka - Bangladesh police fired rubber bullets at protesters on Monday, as violence erupted across the country ahead of the verdict on a top Islamist for allegedly masterminding atrocities during the 1971 liberation war.

Activists of the Jamaat-e-Islami party threw homemade bombs at police, after taking to the streets in several cities in support of the Islamist, who could face the death penalty if convicted, the officials said.

Journalists were among those injured after they were caught in the clashes in Dhalpur district of the capital Dhaka, local police chief Rafiqul Islam said.

"One of the journalists was hit by [shrapnel]," he told AFP, adding the protesters hurled at least five small home-made bombs at police who retaliated with rubber bullets.

Police also fired rubber bullets at protesters in the cities of Bogra, Comilla and Rajshahi after activists went on the rampage, attacking and torching dozens of vehicles, police officials told AFP.

A war crimes tribunal is set to hand down its verdict against Ghulam Azam, aged 90, for alleged crimes committed during the liberation war against Pakistan, which the government says killed three million people.

Spiritual leader

Prosecutors have sought the death penalty for Azam, comparing him to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. They describe him as a "lighthouse" who guided all war criminals and the "architect" of the militias which committed many of the 1971 atrocities.

Security was tight at the International Crimes Tribunal - set up by the country's secular government in 2010 - ahead of the verdict set to be handed down soon.

Jamaat, the country's largest Islamic party and a key member of the opposition, called a nationwide strike on Monday to protest the impending verdict, saying the war crimes trials are aimed at eliminating its leaders.

Azam is no longer politically active but is seen as Jamaat's spiritual leader. He faces five charges of planning, conspiracy, incitement, complicity and murder and torture.

Violence broke out in several cities on Sunday immediately after the tribunal announced its decision to pass the judgement on Monday.

Azam's lawyer Tajul Islam said the charges were based on newspaper reports of speeches Azam gave during the war, which led to the creation of Bangladesh.

"The prosecution has completely failed to prove any of the charges," he told AFP.

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