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Bangladesh hangs two opposition leaders for war crimes

Bangladesh authorities have executed two high-profile politicians over war crimes committed in the 1971 independence war against Pakistan. Supporters of the government took to the streets to celebrate.

Opposition leaders Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid and Salauddin Quader Chowdhury were put to death late Saturday in the Bangladesh capital Dhaka, following a controversial trial.

"Both of them were hanged simultaneously on two separate platforms," a senior police official said.

Mujahid and Chowdhury were convicted of genocide, torture and crimes against humanity during Bangladesh's (formerly East Pakistan) struggle to break away from Pakistan. They were allegedly collaborating with the Pakistani army.

The two men were executed only hours after Bangladesh president Abdul Hamid refused to grant them clemency.

"A black chapter of Bangladesh ended as justice was done," the Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan told reporters.

Waiting for over four decades

Hundreds of youths celebrated the execution, waving national flags and distributing sweets near the Dhaka's Central Jail where the hanging took place.

"I've waited for this day for a long 44 years," said Shawan Mahmud, daughter of top musician Altaf Mahmud, who was killed during the war. The killing was blamed on the notorious Al Badr militia, allegedly led by Mujahid.

"We had to endure years of pain and shame as these war criminals would taunt us. But now justice has finally been delivered," she told the AFP news agency.

Fears of backlash

The government critics from the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and their Islamist allies Jamaat-e-Islami claim the charges against the opposition leaders were politically motivated.

The trial was "predetermined" with the country "gagged from speaking out," Salauddin Quader Chowdhury's son Humam told the Reuters news agency. But he said there was hope in the fact that "the international community recognizes the injustice and that fairness and truth shall be restored," he added.

The international organization Human Rights Watch asked the authorities to stop the executions, citing "serious fair trial concerns surrounding their convictions."

The authorities have beefed up security across the country, bracing for possible unrest orchestrated by the opposition. Around 2,000 soldiers of the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), a paramilitary force, were patrolling the streets of the capital.

dj/jm (AFP, dpa, Reuters, AP)

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