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Bangladesh tribunal sentences an opposition party leader to death for crimes in 1971 war

A special war crimes tribunal in Bangladesh ruled Tuesday that a senior member of the main opposition party should be put to death for his involvement in the killing of hundreds of people during the county's independence fight against Pakistan in 1971.

The verdict against Salauddin Quader Chowdhury came in a packed courtroom amid tight security in the nation's capital, Dhaka. Fearing a backlash from opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party supporters, authorities deployed paramilitary forces in southeastern Chittagong district, where Chowdhury was elected to Parliament six times.

Hours after the verdict, Chowdhury's supporters attacked ruling party activists and smashed and burned vehicles in Chittagong, Channel 24 television station reported. One man was injured in the violence, it said.

In Dhaka, at least two vehicles were burned, the station said.

Chowdhury's party called a daylong general strike in Chittagong on Wednesday.

Attorney General Mahbubey Alam said the tribunal convicted Chowdhury on nine of 23 charges, including four counts of genocide. Chowdhury was found guilty of aiding and ordering the killing of at least 200 people, mostly minority Hindus, during the war in Chittagong.

"I think this is a fair trial," Alam said. "We are happy."

During the war, Chowdhury's father was an influential politician in the Muslim League party, which sought to prevent Bangladesh from breaking away from Pakistan.

Chowdhury's wife, Farhat Quader Chowdhury, said her husband would appeal.

"We will do whatever we need to do to show the world that this is a farce," she said.

The ruling Awami League party welcomed the verdict.

The government says Pakistani soldiers, aided by local collaborators, killed 3 million people and raped 200,000 women during the nine-month war that ended in December 1971. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina set up the tribunal in 2010 to punish alleged collaborators.

The opposition, led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, has criticized the trials as an attempt to weaken the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its allies.

Six people have already been convicted of war crimes by the tribunal. Four of them are currently top officials of the country's main Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islami, while one is a former party chief and another is an expelled member of the party. Those verdicts led to widespread violence.

Jamaat-e-islami is the main political ally of Zia's party and is seeking to contest the next general election under a Zia-led alliance. Jamaat-e-Islami shared two posts in the Cabinet during Zia's latest premiership in 2001-2006.

The New York-based group Human Rights Watch has criticized the conduct of the tribunals, saying they are not up to international standards.

Hasina's government denies that the tribunals are biased. It says it pledged before the 2008 elections to prosecute those responsible for war crimes and that its 14-party political alliance won that election with a two-thirds majority.