Violence looms after Bangladesh execution

Celebrations near the jail where Abdul Quader Molla was hanged. Picture: Getty
Celebrations near the jail where Abdul Quader Molla was hanged. Picture: Getty
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Bangladesh has executed an Islamist opposition leader convicted of war crimes hours after the supreme court rejected a last-minute appeal.

The death threatens to spark new violence ahead of national elections next month.

Sheikh Yousuf Harun, chief government administrator in Dhaka, said Abdul Quader Mollah was hanged at 10:01pm local time last night. Mollah’s Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islami, immediately called a nationwide general strike for Sunday.

Mollah, 65, was found guilty of war crimes during the nation’s war of independence against Pakistan in 1971. The government says Pakistani soldiers, aided by local collaborators, killed three million people and raped 200,000 women during the nine-month war.

He is the first person executed after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina began trying people suspected of crimes during the war in 2010. Most of the defendants are opposition members.

Mollah’s execution was placed on hold on Tuesday night, when he was to have been put to death. The Supreme Court rejected his final appeal yesterday.

Jamaat-e-Islami, an ally of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, had warned of “dire consequences” if he were executed. The two parties say the trials are an attempt to weaken the opposition and eliminate Islamic parties. Authorities have denied the allegations.

Security was tight around Dhaka Central Prison where Mollah was hanged. Extra police were deployed, along with paramilitary guards on the streets of the capital.

Earlier yesterday, party activists clashed with police, torched or smashed vehicles and exploded homemade bombs in three other major cities – Chittagong, Sylhet and Rajshahi. 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 bitter politics.

The execution complicates an already critical political situation in Bangladesh, where the opposition has carried out violent protests for weeks, demanding an independent caretaker government oversee the general election set for 5 January.

The government has said a political government headed by Mr Hasina will conduct the election. Weeks of blockades and general strikes have left nearly 100 people dead since October.

Mollah was found guilty in February of killing a student and a family of 11 and of aiding Pakistani troops in killing 369 other people on the independence war. He was originally sentenced to life in prison.