B'desh Islamist's death sentence sparks deadly riots
Bangladesh police on Saturday opened fire at Islamists protesting the conviction for war crimes of one of their leaders, killing three people outside the port city of Chittagong.
The deaths brought the total number killed since a war crimes tribunal delivered its first verdict on January 21 to at least 56, according to police figures.
The number includes 40 who have died in the last three days, since Jamaat-e-Islami party vice president Delwar Hossain Sayedee was sentenced to death, police said.
Sayedee was found guilty on Thursday of murder, religious persecution and rape during the 1971 independence war, triggering violent clashes between rampaging Jamaat supporters and police across the country.
The 73-year-old firebrand preacher was the third person to be convicted by the war crimes tribunal, whose verdicts have been met by outrage from Islamists.
The Islamists say the process is more about settling scores than delivering justice.
The latest violence came a day after the United States called for calm in the impoverished South Asian nation.
"While engaging in a peaceful protest is a fundamental democratic right, we believe violence is never the answer," US State Department deputy acting spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters in Washington.
But he stressed the United States believes "it is important to bring justice to those who have committed war crimes and atrocities" while ensuring that the trials be "free, fair, transparent".
In the new clashes, police said they fired live rounds after hundreds of student activists of Jamaat barricaded a key highway and attacked officers with stones and sticks as they tried to clear the road.
"We were forced to open fire. Three people were killed in the clashes," senior Chittagong police official Rabiul Islam told AFP, adding 10 people, including policemen, were wounded.
The war crimes trials of a dozen Jamaat and main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leaders have opened old wounds and divided the nation.
The opposition has accused the government of staging a witchhunt.
The government, which says the war claimed three million lives, rejects the claims and accuses Jamaat leaders of being part of pro-Pakistani militias blamed for much of the carnage during the 1971 independence war.
Independent estimates put the death toll from the war in which Bangladesh won its independence from Pakistan at a much lower figure of 300,000 to 500,000.
US urges calm
The US has asked Bangladesh to help calm the ongoing situation and demanded citizens to engage in peaceful protest".
While engaging in a peaceful protest is a fundamental democratic right, we believe violence is never the answer. We encourage all Bangladeshis to peacefully express their views, and we welcome peaceful efforts by the government to help calm the situation,” state department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters.