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Bangladesh deploys troops as protest toll hits 73

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Bangladesh deployed troops in the north of the country after fresh clashes erupted Sunday, taking the death toll to 73 in recent weeks of violence over the conviction of Islamist leaders for war crimes.

Seventeen people were killed in the latest bout of violence as Bangladesh's largest Islamic party declared a nationwide strike to denounce the trials over atrocities committed during the nation's bloody war for independence in 1971.

In the northern district of Bogra more than 10,000 supporters of Jamaat-e-Islami armed with sticks and home-made bombs attacked 12 police stations, torching four of them and two other government offices, police said.

"They came from the villages and attacked the stations at dawn. Eight people were killed in Bogra district including four who were killed in Shahjahanpur (town)," district deputy police chief Syed Abu Sayem told AFP.

Troops have been deployed in the worst-affected Shahjahanpur to strengthen security, he said.

Four people were shot dead in the northwestern town of Panchbibi after security officials opened fire at about 12,000 protesters, district chief Mohammad Yasin said

"The forces fired after they were besieged by the protesters for about two hours. They were armed with sticks, machetes and home-made sharp weapons," he told AFP.

The death toll in the clashes over the war crimes verdicts has risen to 73 since the first was announced on January 21, police said, including 57 killed in the four days since Jamaat's vice president was sentenced to death.

Delwar Hossain Sayedee was Thursday found guilty of murder, religious persecution and rape during the 1971 war against Pakistan. The sentence triggered violent clashes across the country between rampaging Jamaat supporters and police.

The 73-year-old firebrand preacher was the third person to be convicted by the war crimes tribunal. Jamaat, the nation's largest Islamic party, says the process is more about settling scores than delivering justice.

The party called for two days of nationwide strikes starting Sunday to protest the verdicts and the killing of its activists by police.

Security was tight in the capital Dhaka with around 10,000 policemen on patrol and shops and schools were closed. Inter-city motorways and roads in Dhaka and the port city of Chittagong were empty.

The latest clashes were also fuelled by rumours that images of Sayedee's face seemed to reflect off the surface of the moon, leading many Islamists to assert that he was innocent, inspector Shamsul Haq of Bogra told AFP.

"Some imams have used this rumour to mobilise villagers against police," he said, with some reports saying the rumours had triggered clashes in several towns.

The United States and United Nations have appealed for calm while the New York-based Human Rights Watch has asked the government and Jamaat to act urgently to stem further acts of violence.

On Saturday minority groups appealed to the government for increased security after a series of attacks on Hindu temples and houses by Jamaat supporters, in which one Hindu man was killed. Jamaat denied they were behind the attacks.

An inter-city train was torched, allegedly by protesters, late Saturday.

The war crimes trials of a dozen leaders from Jamaat and the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party have opened old wounds and divided the nation, with the opposition accusing the government of staging a witch-hunt.

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 war.

Independent estimates put the death toll from the war in which Bangladesh won independence from Pakistan at between 300,000 and 500,000.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130303/bangladesh-deploys-troops-protest-toll-hits-73