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Violent Street Clashes In Bangladesh Leave Dozens Dead

A wave of violence has rocked Bangladesh after a special war crimes tribunal Thursday imposed the death penalty on an Islamist leader for his role in the country's 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.

Demonstrators for and against the convicted leader clashed with security forces, leaving dozens of people dead, including police.

The violence demonstrates the deep sensitivities that remain over the war of independence that played out more than 40 years ago.

A domestic war crimes tribunal ruled Thursday that Delwar Hossain Sayedee must be hanged for crimes against humanity.

A leader of the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami party, Sayedee was convicted on eight of 20 counts, including murder, arson, rape and forcibly converting Hindus to Muslims.

When Britain ended its colonial rule of India in 1947, two countries emerged, India and Pakistan. However, Pakistan was made up of two separate pieces of land — one to the west of India and one in the east.

The two parts of Pakistan had an uneasy relationship for years, and East Pakistan fought a bloody war in 1971 to become the independent nation of Bangladesh. It's estimated that 3 million people were killed and thousands of women were raped. The Jamaat-e-Islami Party opposed independence from Pakistan.

Sayedee is the third Jamaat leader to be convicted this year in rulings by the 3-year-old tribunal that Islamists condemn as a politically motivated attempt to discredit government rivals.

Security forces braced for trouble following the death sentence handed down to Sayedee. Hundreds of thousands of young protesters reportedly took to the streets in celebration. They have been demonstrating against Jamaat-e-Islami and demanding action in war crimes cases in a new movement that has shown a sizable following.

At the same time, Jamaat-e-Islami members went on a rampage after the verdict was announced, sparking violence across the country. Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh's largest Islamic bloc, called a general strike to denounce the trial and demand Sayedee's acquittal.

The 73-year-old cleric said the verdict had been influenced by "atheists" and pro-government supporters who have demanded his execution.

The chief lawyer for Sayedee said he will appeal.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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