Police fire on protesters in strike-hit Bangladesh

DHAKA (AFP) - Bangladesh police opened fire on opposition activists Thursday, killing one protester, on the second day of a nationwide strike over the death sentence given to a senior Islamist leader for mass murder.

Police said the shooting occurred in the western town of Mujibnagar where 1,200 stick-wielding supporters of the country's largest Islamist party were blocking a motorway during protests over Tuesday's sentence.

Local police chief Nahidul Alam told AFP: "A Jamaat activist was killed in the clashes in Mujibnagar."

At least 10 people were also injured, five protesters and five officers, after police tried to disperse the activists from the Jamaat-e-Islami party, local sub-inspector Aminur Rahman said.

"They attacked our officers, forcing us to fire with rifles, pistols and shotguns. Five protesters were injured by bullets," Mr Rahman told AFP, adding that a police van was also torched.

Violence has flared throughout the country and schools and businesses have been shuttered since Jamaat called the 48-hour strike over the sentence handed to Abdul Quader Molla for crimes committed during the 1971 war of independence.

On Wednesday, the first day of the strike, an autorickshaw driver was killed after being hit with stones thrown by rampaging protesters in the country's south and elsewhere a police officer was shot and critically injured.

The Supreme Court strengthened the sentence originally given to Molla by the country's war crimes tribunal, and rejected an appeal for acquittal by his defence lawyers.

Molla, 65, the fourth-highest leader of Jamaat, had been given a life sentence in February by the tribunal, sparking deadly protests and riots by Islamists but also by secular activists on the other side, who considered it too lenient.

Molla was convicted by the tribunal of rape, murder and mass murder including the killing of more than 350 unarmed Bengali civilians, a poet and a top journalist during the war, when he was a physics student at Dhaka University.

Bangladesh has been reeling from some of the deadliest violence since independence over the sentences given to Islamists for atrocities committed during the war against Pakistan.

The tribunal has since January convicted six Islamists of crimes related to the 1971 war, in which pro-independence fighters battled Pakistani forces which were helped by local Islamist leaders.

The opposition has criticised the tribunal's trials as a politically motivated exercise aimed at settling old scores rather than meting out justice.

The government says three million people died during the war while independent estimates put the death toll at between 300,000 and 500,000.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.