DHAKA: Bangladesh today deployed paramilitary border guards to beef up security after a top Islamist opposition leader was sentenced to death, sparking nationwide riots that killed at least 42 people.
The violence broke out yesterday after 73-year-old Delwar Hossain Sayedee, vice-president of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), was sentenced to death by International Crimes Tribunal after he was found guilty of eight counts out of 20 involving rape, mass killings and atrocities during the nine-month freedom war against Pakistan in 1971.
A police spokesman, meanwhile, said law enforcement agencies were on high alert as Jamaat and Sayedee’s supporters planned more protests.
Authorities feared that the JI activists might launch attacks on mosques during the Friday prayers.
Tens of thousands of youngsters, joined by 1971 veterans and ruling Awami League supporters, took to the streets in Dhaka and other major cities yesterday to celebrate the verdict against Sayedee.
Violence erupted as activists of JI clashed with security forces, denouncing the judgment.
They also clashed rival activists, beat to death four policemen, attacked their camps and snatched away their weapons, set ablaze offices of the ruling Awami League at their strongholds at different places across the country.
The four policemen were killed in north-western Gaibandha, one of the worst scenes of the violence, where fresh unrest today left one ruling Awami League activist dead.
Sayedee is the third JI politician to be convicted by the Tribunal since the trial of war crimes suspects, mostly belonging to the Islamist group, began three years ago.
In the first verdict in January, former Jamaat leader Abul Kalam Azad was sentenced to death on similar charges.
Another Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Mollah was sentenced to life in February for atrocities during the war.
The JI, Muslim-majority Bangladesh’s largest Islamic bloc, was opposed to the 1971 liberation war when officially 3 million people were killed and 200,000 women were raped.
A local journalist said JI activists beat an Awami League supporter to death after the ruling party men vandalized several shops belonging to the extreme rightwing party to retaliate yesterday’s attacks.
Meanwhile, railway officials said south-eastern Chittagong port city’s train link with Dhaka and north-eastern Sylhet remained snapped as suspected JI activists uprooted fishplates of railway tracks.
“Six compartments of an intercity train were derailed as they (suspected activists) uprooted the fishplates on Dhaka-Chittagong route…fortunately no casualty was reported as the train slowed down as it was entering a nearby station at Feni,” a railway police official said.