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Violence rocks Bangladesh as Jamaat enforces strike

June 10, 2013 17:55 IST

Much of Bangladesh was paralysed on Monday by the latest strike called by Jamaat-e-Islami, with two powerful explosions rocking Shahbag Square, the epicentre of a massive campaign demanding toughest punishment for leaders of the fundamentalist party for war crimes during the 1971 war.

Two homemade bombs exploded at Shahbag Square just after a procession, staged by youngsters belonging to Ganajagaran Mancha, protesting the strike passed the scene.

"None was hurt as the bombs were blasted near the Shahbag Police Station," said a police officer, adding that two motorcyclist hurled the bombs and fled the scene immediately.

Protesters clashed with police in several towns and set several vehicles on fire to enforce the strike. Shops and schools were closed here and major roads were largely deserted.

Two police officers were injured in the northern town of Ullapara after protesters threw a homemade bomb into their vehicle, police said.

Violence was also reported from some other parts of the country, including southeastern town of Laksam, where police fired rubber bullets to disperse right-wing activists.

The latest Jamaat shutdown comes a day after a special tribunal which deals with war crime cases, sentenced two Jamaat leaders to three months in jail for their derogatory and contemptuous remarks about the trial of several stalwarts of the party which was opposed to Bangladesh's struggle for independence.

Jamaat lawmaker Hamidur Rahman Azad and the party's acting deputy Rafiqul Islam Khan were sentenced in absentia by the controversial International Crimes Tribunal, which is trying Islamists and others for war crimes.

The country's main opposition party and Jamaat's crucial ally, Bangladesh Nationalist Party said unlike previous several such occasions, they did not support the shutdown called by their fundamentalist partner in the 18-party opposition alliance.

"BNP has not given a formal support to today's hartal," said spokesman of the party and opposition leader Khaleda Zia's adviser Shamsuzzaman Dudu.

The opposition parties, including Jamaat, have called more than 30 strikes this year, protesting at what they say are "show trials" of leading Islamists and demanding elections under a caretaker government.

Junior minister for law Quamrul Islam today said Jamaat could have appealed against the verdicts before the high court, but instead they called the shutdown which indicated their mentality about the rule of law.

He said the tribunal verdict would strip the Jamaat lawmaker off his membership in the current parliament, where the ruling Awami League has three fourths majority.

Jamaat was opposed to Bangladesh’s 1971 independence while most of their top leaders were accused of siding with Pakistani troops constituting militia and auxiliary forces like Razakar and Al Badr to carryout atrocities.

In the past several months, the party spearheaded violent street campaigns to thwart the trial of their stalwarts particularly in certain areas of their stronghold, while the deadly clashes over the war crimes trial left at least 100 people including policemen dead.

Since the constitution of the first war crimes tribunal three years ago, 12 people were indicted so far -- nine of them being Jamaat leaders, two of main opposition and Jamaat's crucial ally BNP and one being a junior leader of ruling Awami League.

The tribunals already issued judgements handing down death penalties to three and life imprisonment to another while they wrapped up hearing against two more -- then chief of Jamaat's erstwhile East Pakistan unit Ghulam Azam and incumbent secretary general of the party Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed.

Anisur Rahman in Dhaka
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