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Bangladesh hands out mass death sentences to army mutineers

A Bangladeshi court has sentenced more than 150 people to death for their role in a 2009 border guard mutiny. More than 70 people were killed in the uprising, which had posed a brief threat to the government.

The court in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, sentenced at least 152 soldiers to death on Tuesday for their role in the mutiny.

More than 800 soldiers were prosecuted in a civil court after being found guilty at a military tribunal. A total of 23 civilians have also been charged with criminal conspiracy.

The accused appeared shackled and packed in the specially-built court room as the sentences were handed out.

Security was tight around the building, with hundreds of police and officers from the elite Rapid Action Batallion stationed outside.

The rebellion began when mutineers stole weapons and broke into an annual meeting of high-ranking personnel in the Bangladeshi Rifles (BDR).

In the 30-hour uprising that ensued, some 74 people were killed, many being hacked to death, tortured and burnt alive. Among those who died was the head of the BDR, Maj. Gen. Shakil Ahmed, whose home was attacked.

Ahmed's wife, domestic staff and guests were murdered, and the house looted and set alight.

Probe highlights frustration

An official investigation into the mutiny attributed it in part to frustration over the treatment and pay of lower-ranking members of the military.

Lead prosecutor Baharul Islam was reported by the AFP news agency as saying the case was the largest of its type in world history, with 654 prosecution witnesses.

The mutiny posed a temporary threat to the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, which had then been only recently elected.

As the sentences were handed out, a nationwide general strike entered its second day. Activists clashed with police in the northwestern district of Rajshahi, with at least 25 people left injured.

Two people on Monday died in the the latest violence surrounding recent protests, which are aimed at forcing Hasina to quit and hand over power to an interim government.

rc/tj (AFP, AP)