General strike sparks clashes
Country crippled as Islamist party demands release of leaders accused of war crimes
Violence flared yesterday as thousands of protesters from the country’s biggest Islamist party took to the streets to enforce a general strike to demand the release of its leaders from prison.
Jamaat-e-Islami activists and elements from its student wing Islamic Chhatra Shibir clashed with police, blocked roads, burned tires and attacked vehicles in Dhaka and several other districts.
They were demanding the Awami League-led government free nine of their leaders who are facing war crimes charges stemming from the country’s fight for independence from Pakistan in 1971.
Police reportedly arrested more than 100 protesters yesterday, while one young activist died before the strike began after being shot in the head by police on Monday in northwestern Dinajpur district
A Dhaka police spokesman said told ucanews.com that at least 70 protesters were arrested in the capital yesterday.
Shafikur Rahman, acting secretary of Jamaat said the strike was in response to the denial of the party’s democratic rights and to demand an end to the “farcical” war crimes trials.
“We are a registered political party and we are entitled to practice our democratic rights. We want the false charges against our leaders dropped immediately,” Rahman said.
A spokesman from Jamaat’s longtime political ally and main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) told reporters yesterday there was popular backing for the strike.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, condemned the strike, saying it would not stop war crimes trials.
“The people of Bangladesh will have to raise their voice against those who have laundered money, who wanted to erase the history of the Liberation War, created militancy, tried to spoil the spirit of the war and the country's independence," she said in Dhaka yesterday.
The nine Jamaat-e-Islami leaders, as well as two from the BNP, face charges of crimes against humanity and collaborating with the Pakistan army during the war of independence. If convicted they could face the death penalty.
The government says it is duty bound to hold the trials as they were an election pledge and have the backing of most of the people.
The BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami say the trials are aimed at destroying the opposition.
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