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September 26, 2017

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Bangladesh court sentences 1st lawmaker to death for war crimes

DHAKA--A Bangladesh court on Tuesday sentenced to death a leading opposition MP for genocide, the first lawmaker to be convicted of offences committed during the 1971 war of independence.

Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, a leader of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), was found guilty by the International Crimes Tribunal of nine charges related to the war, the attorney general said.

Judge A.T.M Fazle Kabir ordered Chowdhury "to be hanged by the neck" after he was convicted of "war crimes charges such as genocide, killing and religious persecution," Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told AFP.

Since January, the tribunal has convicted seven people, including six Islamists, of crimes related to the nine-month war, in which pro-independence fighters battled Pakistani forces who were helped by local collaborators.

After the sentence was read out to a packed tribunal, a defiant Chowdhury, 64, accused the government of ordering the judge's decision.

"This judgment came from the (law) ministry. The copy of the verdict has been available on the Internet since yesterday," he cried out.

Police fear the sentence could trigger fresh violence from opposition supporters, particularly in the southern port city of Chittagong, which Chowdhury has represented as a lawmaker for three decades.

Some supporters on Tuesday set ablaze an auto-rickshaw van outside Chittagong, local police chief Chandan Kumar Chakrabarty told AFP.

"We have deployed (paramilitary) border guards to combat further violence," Chakrabarty said.

The sentences since January have sparked deadly protests and widespread riots — in which more than 100 people have been killed, plunging the country into its worst political violence since independence.

Prosecutors described Chowdhury, son of a former speaker of Pakistan's parliament, as a cold-blooded killer who murdered more than 200 Hindus including the owner of a well-known herbal medicine company.

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its Islamist allies have said the tribunal is a tool for the ruling Awami League to target its opponents ahead of general elections next January.

The government says the trials are needed to heal the wounds of the 1971 war in which it says 3 million people were killed and 200,000 women raped. Independent estimates put the toll at between 300,000 and 500,000.

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