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Deadly clashes in Bangladesh after top JI leader hanged

14 December, 2013

DHAKA: Bangladesh was rocked by a new wave of deadly violence on Friday as Islamist supporters went on the rampage to vent their fury at the execution of one of their leaders for war crimes.

Abdul Quader Molla became the first person to be hanged for his role in the country's bloody 1971 war of independence when he was sent to the gallows at a prison on Thursday.

The hanging took place at 10:01 pm (1601 GMT) after the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal for a final review of the death sentence handed down to Molla, who was a senior figure in the Jamaat-e-Islami party.

Molla had been found guilty in February by a much-criticised domestic tribunal of having been a leader of a pro-Pakistan militia that fought against the country's independence and killed some of Bangladesh's top professors, doctors, writers and journalists.

He was convicted of rape, murder and mass murder, including the killing of more than 350 unarmed civilians. Prosecutors called him the "Butcher of Mirpur", a Dhaka suburb where he committed most of the atrocities.

Fears that the execution could spark further unrest, in a country where political violence is intensifying in the build-up to deeply divisive elections, were soon realised as the Islamists rioted in street battles in towns and cities.

Two protesters were killed and two activists from the ruling Awami League were hacked to death Friday. Jamaat activists firebombed train stations, set fire to businesses and blockaded key highways, police officials said.

Violence also erupted near the country's largest mosque in Dhaka after Friday prayers as Jamaat activists detonated crude bombs and torched at least a dozen cars and vehicles, AFP correspondents at the scene said.

Police fired rubber bullets to disperse the crowds, critically injuring a child, footage aired by private station Channel 24 showed.

Activists also tried to burn down the coastal village home of one of the war crimes trial judges, local police chief Anisur Rahman told AFP.

"They tried to torch the house with kerosene. We fired rubber bullets to disperse them. No one was injured," he said.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Bangladesh was passing through a "very sensitive moment", urging all parties to resolve their differences peacefully. "We've long urged the authorities to assure that trials are free, transparent and in accord with international standards, but we've also urged all parties and their supporters to express their views peacefully and again, to refrain from violence," she said.

Authorities went ahead with the execution despite widespread international appeals against the move, including from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

The government, which has also rebuffed international pressure to delay the elections scheduled for next month, was unrepentant about the decision to carry out the execution of 65-year-old Molla.

Molla's wife and children were allowed a final meeting with him at the prison hours before the execution, and found him to be "calm".

"He told us that he is proud to be a martyr for the cause of the Islamic movement in the country," Molla's son Hasan Jamil told AFP.

End.

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