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Bangladesh strike sparks deadly clashes

DHAKA: Two people died yesterday in clashes between government supporters and the opposition during a Bangladesh general strike in protest at a series of war crimes trials.
Police and witnesses said violence erupted throughout the country, with the worst clashes in the northwestern city of Bogra where hundreds of supporters of the ruling Awami League confronted rivals from Jamaat-e-Islami.
Witnesses said the two sides attacked each other with machetes and bricks.
“We can confirm the death of two people. One of them belonged to Jamaat’s student wing and another was a Jamaat supporter,” Anwar Hossain, a police officer in the city, told AFP from the scene.
Police did not give details of the violence. An online newspaper quoted a local Jamaat leader as saying one of the two victims was hacked to death. Scores of people were injured.
The deaths sparked fierce protests by Jamaat supporters as they attacked police with sticks, local police officer Riaz Uddin told AFP.
“The situation is very tense here. We’ve reports of clashes in different areas of the city,” Uddin said.
Jamaat, one of Bangladesh’s main opposition parties, called the strike to protest at the prosecution of its main leaders for atrocities they allegedly committed during the 1971 war of independence against Pakistan.
The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) backed the strike, the seventh in the past two months. Two of its senior officials are also being tried for war crimes.
Both Jamaat and the BNP say the charges are bogus and the trials politically motivated. International rights groups have expressed concern over the fairness of the proceedings and shortcomings of the laws.
The violence follows calls by Awami League officials to round up Jamaat activists.
Police also reported clashes in the capital Dhaka, where the protesters torched and damaged vehicles. Many schools and businesses were shut and inter-city motorways deserted.
A police constable suffered a heart attack during a clash with at least 150 stone-throwing Jamaat supporters in the western town of Monirumpur, district police chief Joydev Bhadra told AFP.
“He was declared dead after we brought him to a hospital. Doctors think the clashes could have contributed to his cardiac arrest,” he said, adding police fired rubber bullets to disperse the protesters.
At Sanarpar outside Dhaka, police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at the strikers who set a lorry ablaze, said local police chief Abdul Matin. Four protesters were detained there.
Last week a former Islamic scholar was sentenced to death in absentia in the first ruling by the much-criticized war crimes tribunal. Verdicts against two Jamaat leaders are expected in early February.
The government says three million people were killed in the war. Many including some of the country’s top professors, doctors and journalists were murdered by pro-Pakistan collaborators who allegedly included Jamaat members.