Bangladesh moves to hang top Islamist leader over massacre during independence war

DHAKA (AFP) - Bangladesh authorities on Saturday moved to hang a top Islamist leader for overseeing a massacre during the nation's 1971 independence war, after he refused to seek clemency from the country's president.

Mohammad Kamaruzzaman, the third most senior figure in the Jamaat-e-Islami party, was originally expected to be hanged in the early hours of Saturday morning, but the execution was postponed at the last minute.

No official reason was given for the delay, but junior home minister Asaduzzaman Khan told reporters that the 62-year-old is now set to be hanged in the capital's main jail on Saturday.

"The hanging of Kamaruzzaman... will take place today (Saturday)," Khan said in remarks published by the mass circulation Bengali daily Prothom Alo.

On Friday, security was stepped up outside the jail where Kamaruzzaman was being held, police said.

Two magistrates visited him in prison to find out whether he would seek clemency from President Abdul Hamid, but the pair made no comment following the visit.

Khan, however, said the authorities had decided Kamaruzzaman would not be granted any more time to seek mercy.

"No, he won't be given anymore time," the minister told reporters.

The move to execute him comes after the country's highest court rejected Kamaruzzaman's final legal appeal on Monday, upholding the original death sentence handed down to him by a controversial domestic war crimes court in May 2013.

Kamaruzzaman was convicted of abduction, torture and mass murder including a slaughter in a remote northern hamlet that has since become known as the "Village of Widows".

The conviction confirmed allegations that Kamaruzzaman was one of the chief organisers of a pro-Pakistan militia that killed thousands of people.

The conflict led to the creation of an independent Bangladesh from what was then East Pakistan.

If the execution is carried out, Kamaruzzaman would become the second Islamist so far hanged for war crimes, though several others have been handed death sentences.

The UN on Wednesday urged Bangladesh against carrying out the sentence, saying his trial did not meet "fair international" standards.

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