Dhaka: At least 42 have died in rioting sparked by a death sentence given to an Islamic political party leader convicted of crimes linked to Bangladesh's 1971 independence war, police said on Friday.
Top Jamaat-e-Islami leader Delwar Hossain Sayedee was sentenced Thursday for mass killings, rape and atrocities committed during the bloody nine-month war against Pakistan. Bangladesh was the eastern wing of Pakistan until it gained independence in 1971.
The verdict sent his supporters into the streets, where they clashed with police, attacked government offices and uprooted railway tracks in parts of the country. Protesters also set fire to dozens of houses belonging to pro-government supporters.
Police responded with bullets and tear gas.
Police and witnesses said Friday that 42 people, including six policemen, had been killed.
The government said the security forces were put on high alert across the country as Jamaat and Sayedee's supporters planned more protests Friday. An additional 10,000 paramilitary border guards were deployed to boost security, said the Home Ministry, which controls security forces.
In a statement Friday, Jamaat asked its supporters to converge in the country's mosques to offer a special mass prayer for those killed during the violence.
Authorities fear that the mass prayer may turn into street protests.
His lawyer Abdur Razzak rejected the verdict as politically motivated. He said the defendant will appeal the verdict to the country's Supreme Court.
Prosecutor Syed Haider Ali said he was satisfied with the verdict. "Justice has been done to those who lost their loved ones at the hands of Sayedee," he said.
Sayedee, a teacher at an Islamic seminary school when he allegedly committed the crimes, is the third defendant to be convicted of war crimes by the special tribunal set up in 2010.
Jamaat, the largest Islamic party in Bangladesh, campaigned against Bangladesh's independence, but denies it was behind any atrocities.
Jamaat is an ally of the country's main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party led by ex-Premier Khaleda Zia and was a partner in her government during 2001-2006.
Bangladesh says the 1971 war left 3 million people dead, 200,000 women raped and forced millions to take shelter in neighboring India.