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Bangladesh executes opposition leader convicted of war crimes; party announces general strike

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DHAKA, Bangladesh - An opposition leader convicted of war crimes during Bangladesh's war of independence in 1971 was executed Thursday, a move that raised fears of new violence before next month's elections.

Abdul Quader Mollah was hanged at 10:01 p.m., said Sheikh Yousuf Harun, chief government administrator in Dhaka, hours after the Supreme Court rejected a last-minute appeal.

Mollah's Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islami, immediately called a nationwide general strike for Sunday.

Hundreds of people gathered at a major intersection in Dhaka to celebrate the execution, saying it delivered justice for crimes committed four decades ago.

Mollah, 65, is the first person executed after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in 2010 began trials for those suspected of crimes during the country's nine-month fight for independence from Pakistan in 1971. The government says Pakistani soldiers, aided by local collaborators, killed 3 million people and raped 200,000 women during the war.

Most of the defendants are opposition members.

In February, a special tribunal convicted Mollah of killing a student and a family of 11, and of aiding Pakistani troops in killing 369 other people in the war. He was sentenced to life in prison, but the Supreme Court changed that to a death sentence in September.

Until it gained independence in 1971, Bangladesh was the eastern wing of Pakistan. Mollah's party campaigned against independence.

His execution had been placed on hold Tuesday night just before he originally was to have been put to death, but the court rejected his final appeal.

Jamaat-e-Islami, an ally of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, had warned of "dire consequences" if he were executed.

The two parties say the trials are an attempt to weaken the opposition and eliminate Islamic parties. Authorities have denied the allegations.

Security was tight around the jail in Dhaka where Mollah was hanged. Extra police were deployed along with paramilitary guards on the streets of the capital.

Earlier Thursday, party activists clashed with police, torching or smashing vehicles and setting off homemade bombs in the cities of Chittagong, Sylhet and Rajshahi, TV stations reported. Scores of people were injured in the South Asian country, which has seen weeks of escalating tension as it struggles to overcome extreme poverty and rancorous politics.

Security officials opened fire to disperse opposition activists in eastern Bangladesh, leaving at least three people dead and 15 others wounded, Dhaka's leading Bengali-language newspaper, Prothom Alo, reported.

The violence broke out in Laxmipur district, 95 kilometres (60 miles) east of Dhaka, after elite security forces raided and searched the home of an opposition leader, the report said.

The execution complicates an already critical political situation in Bangladesh, where the opposition has carried out violent protests, demanding an independent caretaker government to oversee the Jan. 5 general election.

The government rejected that demand. An opposition alliance led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia plans to boycott the vote. Weeks of protests have left nearly 100 people dead since October.

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