Fresh clashes kill five in Bangladesh over Islamist hanging

DHAKA (AFP) - Bangladesh police opened fire on bomb-throwing Islamist protesters on Monday as five more people died in clashes sparked by the execution of an Islamist leader for war crimes.

Police said trouble broke out in several places in the southeastern district of Satkhira over the hanging last week of Abdul Quader Molla, a top figure from the country's largest Islamist party.

Activists from the Jamaat-e-Islami party, wielding home-made weapons and crude bombs, attacked teams of police and paramilitary border guards, police said.

"We fired rifles in self-defence," district deputy police chief Kazi Moniruzzaman told AFP of the clashes before dawn in Satkhira, a Jamaat stronghold.

District administrator Anwar Hossain said five people were confirmed dead in the clashes, while Bengali daily Prothom Alo quoted local sources as saying the victims were Jamaat activists.

Bangladesh has been rocked by a new wave of deadly violence that has left 30 people dead as Islamist supporters vent their fury at Molla's execution last Thursday.

He became the first person to be hanged for his role in the country's bloody 1971 war of independence from Pakistan, after being convicted of rape and mass murder - including the killing of more than 350 unarmed civilians.

The latest violence comes as Bangladesh observes a national holiday Monday to mark victory over Pakistani forces in that war.

The execution has exacerbated turmoil in the impoverished nation, where political violence is intensifying in the build-up to deeply divisive elections scheduled for next month.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has warned of strong action against the rioters, saying: "We have shown enough patience. We will not tolerate any more."

Molla was found guilty in February by a much-criticised tribunal of having been a leader of a pro-Pakistan militia that fought against the country's independence and killed some of Bangladesh's top professors, doctors, writers and journalists.

He was one of five Islamists or other politicians sentenced to death by the domestic court known as the International Crimes Tribunal, which the opposition says is aimed at eradicating its leaders.

The sentences have triggered riots and plunged the country into its worst violence since independence. Some 235 people have now been killed in street protests since January when the first verdicts were handed down.

Hasina's government says three million people died in the 1971 war, many at the hands of militias led by Jamaat leaders who opposed what was then East Pakistan seceding.

Independent researchers put the death toll at between 300,000 and 500,000 people.