Bangladesh police fire on protesters killing two: officer

Former head of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party, Ghulam Azam is escorted by security personnel and lawyers as he emerges from the Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal in Dhaka.

DHAKA - Police fired on Islamist demonstrators in southwestern Bangladesh Tuesday killing two, amid a nationwide strike in protest at the conviction of a top Islamist for war crimes, an officer said.

Several thousand protesters from the country's largest Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islami, went on the rampage in the streets of Satkhira district, attacking police with sticks, machetes and throwing homemade bombs, the officer said.

Jamaat supporters attacked an officer as police tried to clear a main road blocked by fallen trees in the town of Kaliganj, as part of protests over the conviction of Jamaat's spiritual leader by a court on Monday.

"They hacked him (the officer) with a machete. We opened fire at them to rescue the officer. Two Jamaat activists were hit by bullets and they died," district deputy police chief Tajul Islam said.

A war crimes tribunal sentenced 90-year-old Ghulam Azam to 90 years in prison for masterminding atrocities during the 1971 war of independence.

Azam, whom prosecutors compared to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, was found guilty of five charges of planning, conspiracy, incitement, complicity and murder during the war against Pakistan.

Azam was the fifth Islamist and the fourth Jamaat official convicted by the controversial court set up by the secular government. Azam, the wartime head of Jamaat, was spared the death penalty because of his age and health.

Earlier verdicts against Jamaat activists plunged the country into its worst political violence since independence with at least 150 killed in clashes with police and paramilitary forces since the first sentence was awarded in January.

Jamaat called a nationwide strike to protest at the verdict, saying the trials are aimed at eliminating its leaders.