DHAKA  - Bangladeshi police on Friday shot dead three activists of Jamaat-e-Islami who were protesting against two of their leaders’ convictions for war crimes, while far larger demonstrations calling for the men to be executed continued for an 11th day.
A tribunal sentenced Abdul Quader Mollah to life in prison on February 5 for war crimes including murder, rape and torture.
Most Bangladeshis had expected a death sentence to be handed to Mollah, 64, assistant secretary-general of Jamaat-e-Islami.
Tens of thousands of protesters have rallied every day in more than a dozen cities since the sentencing, demanding the execution of Mollah and others convicted of war crimes. Dhaka demonstrations have attracted crowds of more than 100,000.
The deaths on Friday took place in the southeastern town of Cox’s Bazar town, a popular tourist resort, during clashes between police and Jamaat activists. Police said they opened fire after failing to disperse activists with teargas.
The town’s police chief Mohammad Azad Mia told Reuters his officers had used guns after protesters had first opened fire, set off dozens of crude bombs and hurled stones and bricks. “We had to open fire in self defence, as the militants turned on law enforcers,” he said. Jamaat called for a two-day strike in Cox’s Bazar over the weekend and a day-long national strike on Monday to protest against the killings.
Local journalist Mohammad Nurul Islam said hundreds of tourists, including some foreigners, were fleeing the town, anticipating more violence.
At least 30 activists were injured in Cox’s Bazar and more than 150 arrested on Friday, while eight police were hurt. The clashes led to authorities banning gatherings and calling in paramilitary border guards to try to prevent further violence.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, daughter of independence leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, set up the war crimes tribunal in 2010 to investigate abuses during the 1971 war.
The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of Hasina’s arch rival, former premier Begum Khaleda Zia, and its ally Jamaat-e-Islami, say the prime minister is using the tribunal as a political weapon against them.
The tribunal delivered its first judgment last month, sentencing a former Jamaat leader and preacher, Abul Kalam Azad, to death on similar charges. He was tried in absentia as he fled the country in April.
Eight other Jamaat leaders along with two from the BNP also face charges before the tribunal.