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Bangladesh riots death toll hits 45

By Farid Ahmed, for CNN
March 4, 2013 -- Updated 0052 GMT (0852 HKT)
A bus set on fire by Islamist activists burns on a street as a man rides his bicycle in Rajshahi northwest from Dhaka.
A bus set on fire by Islamist activists burns on a street as a man rides his bicycle in Rajshahi northwest from Dhaka.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Clashes continue in country
  • Heavy security evident
  • Delwar Hossain Sayedee was convicted of war crimes dating back to 1971
  • His political party says the allegations are part of a smear campaign

Dhaka, Bangladesh (CNN) -- Angry supporters of a Bangladesh Islamist party leader, given the death penalty for a war crimes conviction, continued clashes with police Friday in different districts, pushing the death toll to 45 since demonstrations began, police said.

Dhaka, the capital, was largely peaceful except for small clashes. An uneasy calm prevailed there, with little traffic on the usually bustling city roads.

"We see a long tailback (traffic backup) here in Dhaka almost everyday, but a wave of fear forced people to stay back home at the weekend," said businessman Ariful Islam in the Dhanmondi residential area.

A huge contingent of police and paramilitary troopers was deployed to ward off further violence. Anti-riot police guarded major mosques in Muslim majority Bangladesh on Friday, the weekly holiday.

"The situation is very much under control," the inspector general of Bangladesh police, Hassan Mahmood Khandker, told CNN.

Besides the police, the Rapid Action Battalion and paramilitary troopers from Border Guards of Bangladesh patrolled.

Road and rail communications were seriously disrupted as the protesters blocked highways and rail tracks in many places.

Local police said at least three people were killed in Friday's violence outside Dhaka and five others injured on Thursday succumbed to their injuries.

The 45 dead included five on-duty policemen, according to authorities.

Police feared that the trouble might escalate next week because the Jamaat-e-Islami party announced a 48-hour general strike to begin Sunday. The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party called a countrywide general strike on Wednesday in protest of what it said were "the killings by police firing" in the recent wave of unrest.

Thirty-seven of the 45 dead were killed Thursday as Jamaat-e-Islami movement supporters clashed with police after the court sentenced Delwar Hossain Sayedee, one of the party's top leaders, to death.

Sayedee, 73, was found guilty of eight counts out of 20 charges involving killings and rapes during the country's war of independence more than four decades ago and was sentenced to hang.

Read: Why thousands are protesting in Bangladesh

Two International Crimes Tribunals set up by Bangladesh in 2010 were dealing with cases against 13 people.

Separated with the help of India, Bangladesh had been the eastern part of Pakistan until it gained independence in 1971 in a war that claimed between 1 million and 3 million lives.

Jamaat-e-Islami opposed East Pakistan's struggle for independence and has decried what it calls a smear campaign against it. The movement called the trial against Sayedee politically motivated.

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