Bangladesh clears execution of opposition leader

Created: 12/12/2013 9:35 AM

(AP) DHAKA, Bangladesh - Bangladesh’s Supreme Court cleared the way Thursday for the execution of an opposition leader convicted of war crimes, rejecting a last-minute appeal in a case that threatens to spark fresh violence ahead of national elections next month.

The execution of Abdul Quader Mollah, which had been placed on hold Tuesday night just before he was to be put to death, is likely to usher in a new wave of political violence ahead of national elections next month. His Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islami, an ally of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, has warned of "dire consequences" if he is executed.

Attorney General Mahbubey Alam said the government would now decide when the execution will take place. "There are no more barriers to execute Quader Mollah. There is no chance of any confusion," he said.

Mollah, 65, was convicted of war crimes committed during the nation’s war of independence against Pakistan in 1971. His lawyers tried to convince the Supreme Court, which began hearing the case Wednesday, to throw out the sentence.

"My client has been deprived of fair justice. But since the highest court has made the decision, we have nothing more to say," defense lawyer Khandaker Mahbub Hossain said.

A.K.M. Shamsul Islam, an official of the Supreme Court, said the decision was forwarded Thursday to authorities.

It was not immediately clear whether an announcement would precede the execution.

Mollah’s family visited him Thursday evening for what was said to be the last time before the execution.

Security was tightened around the jail in Dhaka where he is to be hanged. Extra police were deployed along with paramilitary guards on the streets of the capital.

While a strong reaction to the decision from Jamaat-e-Islami was expected in Dhaka, the city remained relatively calm. But party activists clashed with police, torched or smashed vehicles and exploded homemade bombs Thursday in three other major cities _ Chittagong, Sylhet and Rajshahi, TV stations reported. Scores of people were injured in the latest violence to hit the South Asian country, which has seen weeks of escalating tension as it struggles to overcome extreme poverty and rancorous politics.

Security officials opened fire to disperse opposition activists in eastern Bangladesh, leaving at least three people dead and 15 others wounded, Dhaka’s leading Bengali-language newspaper, Prothom Alo, reported.

The violence broke out in Laxmipur district, 95 kilometers (60 miles) east of Dhaka, during a nationwide opposition blockade after elite security forces raided and searched the home of an opposition leader, the report said.

Mollah would be the first person executed in special trials begun by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in 2010 of people suspected of crimes during the war of independence. The government says Pakistani soldiers, aided by local collaborators, killed 3 million people and raped 200,000 women during the nine-month war.

Most of the defendants are opposition members. Mollah’s party and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party say the trials are an attempt to weaken the opposition and eliminate Islamic parties. Authorities have denied the allegations.

Asif Munier, son of a university teacher who was killed in 1971 for supporting independence, said he was pleased with the decision.

"Yes, we are happy because justice has been served. ... It’s not about any revenge, but for justice," Munier said after the Supreme Court decision.

Carrying out the execution would complicate an already critical political situation in Bangladesh, where the opposition has carried out violent protests for weeks demanding an independent caretaker government to oversee the general election set for Jan. 5.

The government has rejected that demand and said a political government headed by Hasina will conduct the election, although the opposition alliance led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia plans to boycott the vote. Weeks of blockades and general strikes have left nearly 100 people dead since October.

Mollah was found guilty by the special tribunal in February of killing a student and a family of 11 and of aiding Pakistani troops in killing 369 other people during the independence war. He was sentenced to life in prison, but the Supreme Court changed that to a death sentence in September.

Until it gained independence in 1971, Bangladesh was the eastern wing of Pakistan. Mollah’s party campaigned against independence.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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