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Bangladesh Amends War Crimes Law, Mulls Banning Islamists

17 Feb 2013

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Bangladesh's Jamaat-e-Islami leader Abdul Quader Mollah gestures to his supporters

Bangladesh's parliament, meeting demands of protesters thronging the capital, amended a law on Sunday allowing the state to appeal any verdict in war crimes trials it deems inadequate and out of step with public opinion.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators jamming central Shahbag Square for the 13th day burst into cheers amid driving rain as the assembly approved the changes, reports Reuters.

The protesters have been demanding the death penalty for war crimes after a tribunal this month sentenced a prominent Islamist to life in prison in connection with Bangladesh's 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.

The life sentence pronounced on Abdul Quader Mollah, assistant Secretary General of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, for murder, rape and torture had stunned many Bangladeshis.

The amendment will "empower the tribunals to try and punish any organizations, including Jamaat-e-Islami, for committing crimes during country's liberation war in 1971", Law Minister Shafique Ahmed said after the change was approved.

Lawyers said the amendment sets a timetable for the government to appeal against Mollah's sentence and secure a retrial. The previous law did not allow state prosecutors to call for a retrial except in the case of acquittals.

Adoption was quick -- less than a week after the amendment was approved by the cabinet in the overwhelmingly Muslim country of 150 million.

Opposition benches were empty as the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (the BNP) of former premier Begum Khaleda Zia and its allies have been boycotting sessions almost since her arch rival, Sheikh Hasina, leader of the Awami League, took office in 2009.

On Sunday, BNP leaders and activists held a rally outside the party's central office in the capital, calling for the next parliamentary election in January 2014 to be held under a non-party caretaker administration.

"The government is trying to use the protests over the war crime trials to divert attention from critical national issues such as our demand for election under a caretaker authority to ensure a clean and unbiased vote," BNP's acting Secretary-General, Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, told the rally.

Other BNP leaders urged the demonstrators at Shahbag to speak out against "corruption, politicization of the administration ahead of the polls and tampering the judiciary to persecute rivals."

Hasina and Khaleda have rotated as prime minister of the south Asian country since 1991 and their unending enmity has earned them a reputation as the "Battling Begums."

Tags: News, World, Bangladesh, War, CRIMES, Law, ISLAMISTS

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