DHAKA - Bangladesh was rocked by a new wave of deadly violence Friday as Islamist supporters went on the rampage to vent their fury at the execution of one of their leaders for war crimes.
Abdul Quader Molla became the first person to be hanged for his role in the country's bloody 1971 war of independence when he was sent to the gallows at a prison in the capital Dhaka late Thursday.
The hanging took place at 10.01 pm (1601 GMT), after the Supreme Court had earlier dismissed an appeal for a final review of the death sentence handed down to Molla who was a senior figure in the Jamaat-e-Islami party.
Fears that the execution could spark further unrest in a country that has been plagued by political violence for much of the year were soon realised as reports emerged of street battles in towns and cities.
Two activists from the ruling Awami League were hacked to death in the southern town of Kalaroa early Friday while Jamaat activists also firebombed train stations, set fire to pro-government businesses and blockaded roads, according to police and other officials.
While there were no immediate reports of violence in Dhaka, large numbers of police could be seen on the streets in anticipation of unrest - particularly after Friday Prayers on the Muslim day of rest.
In Washington, a State Department representative said Bangladesh was passing through a "very sensitive moment", urging all parties to resolve their differences peacefully.
"We've long urged the authorities to assure that trials are free, transparent and in accord with international standards, but we've also urged all parties and their supporters to express their views peacefully and again, to refrain from violence," said deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf.