DHAKA Dec 10 Bangladesh will hang an Islamist
opposition leader within hours, his chief jailer said on
Tuesday, heightening the risk of violent protests less than a
month before elections are due.
Mainuddin Khandaker, head of Dhaka Central Jail, said Abdul
Quader Mollah, who was found guilty in February of war crimes
committed during the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan,
would be hanged there.
Junior Home Affairs Minister Shamsul Haque Tuku told
reporters the execution would take place at one minute past
midnight (1801 GMT) on Wednesday. Mollah's family members
visited him on Tuesday evening.
Political violence is common in the impoverished nation of
160 million people. When the Supreme Court sentenced Mollah to
death in September, his Islamist supporters clashed with police.
Mollah is assistant secretary general of the Jamaat-e-Islami
party, which is barred from contesting elections, but which
plays a key role in the opposition movement alongside the
Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).
BNP leader Begum Khaleda Zia is at loggerheads with Prime
Minister Sheikh Hasina over the Jan. 5 election. Their personal
enmity has dominated politics in Bangladesh for more than 20
years and threatens to destabilise the country.
The BNP wants to postpone the vote until after the formation
of a caretaker cabinet that would remove Hasina from power, a
demand the prime minister has so far resisted.
The announcement of Mollah's imminent execution appears to
dash hopes earlier in the day that the two sides might be edging
towards a compromise.
Hasina's critics have accused her of using a special court
set up to investigate war crimes from 1971 as a weapon against
Jamaat-e-Islami, charges the government denies.
Human rights groups say the International Crimes Tribunal
procedures fall short of international standards.
Bangladesh has been racked by violent protests sparked by
the tribunal's rulings, disagreement over the election, and
anger among garment workers over low pay and poor conditions.
Nearly 200 people have been killed and thousands wounded in
running street battles between protesters and police across
Bangladesh, and many roads and railways remain blocked.
The unrest threatens the $22 billion garment export
industry, the country's economic mainstay, which employs some
four million people, most of them women.
The industry, which supplies many Western brands such as
Wal-Mart, JC Penney and H&M, came under scrutiny when a building
housing factories collapsed in April, killing more than 1,130
(Additional reporting by Ruma Paul; writing by Mike
Collett-White; Editing by Alistair Lyon)