Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina warned of a crackdown on Sunday as deadly riots and protests sparked by the execution of Islamist leader Abdul Quader Molla intensified.
“We have shown enough patience,” she told a rally late on Saturday to commemorate those killed in the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan. “We will not tolerate anymore.” She added: “People of the country know how to reply to these atrocities, we also know how to respond to [and] control you.”
Molla’s hanging on Thursday night triggered fresh unrest in a country already reeling from political violence in the build-up to a deeply divisive national election scheduled for Jan. 5.
Police said Islamists torched houses and fought running street battles with officers in towns and cities during a third day of unrest over Molla’s execution for war crimes in 1971. Two people were killed Sunday in the northern town of Patgram and another six elsewhere overnight as Islamists enforced a nationwide strike over the execution.
“Police fired shotgun pellets to disperse the Jamaat-e-Islami protesters who torched at least 20 houses belonging to ruling-party supporters,” government administrator Habibur Rahman said of the violence in Patgram.
Twenty people are now known to have died and dozens more have been injured in the clashes since Thursday between outraged Jamaat activists and police and between the activists and supporters of the ruling Awami League.
Of the six killed overnight, police said three died in the southern town of Companyganj, two in the northern town of Ramganj, and one in the coastal town of Laxmipur. At Companyganj, an opposition bastion, police fired rifles to disperse at least 8,000 rampaging Jamaat supporters who torched four government offices and attacked officers with crude bombs and guns, a senior police officer said. In Ramganj, activists of Jamaat and its main ally, the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, attacked a convoy of ruling-party lawmakers, leaving two dead.
Molla, 65, became the first person to be executed for his role in that war. Jamaat called the hanging a “political murder” and said it would avenge it. Molla had been found guilty in February by a much-criticized domestic tribunal of having been a leader of a pro-Pakistan militia that fought against the country’s independence and killed some of Bangladesh’s top professors, doctors, writers, and journalists. He was convicted of rape and mass murder, including the killing of more than 350 unarmed civilians. Prosecutors called him the “Butcher of Mirpur,” a Dhaka suburb where he allegedly committed most of the atrocities.
Molla was one of five Islamists and politicians sentenced to death by Bangladesh’s war-crimes tribunal, which the opposition says is aimed at eradicating its leaders. The sentences have triggered riots and plunged the country into its worst violence since independence. Some 250 people have now been killed in street protests since January when the first verdicts were handed down.