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Bangladesh halts execution of Jamaat leader

Dhaka: Lawyers for an Islamist opposition leader in Bangladesh were trying to get his death sentence thrown out after a late reprieve saved his life just hours before he was to be hanged.

The lawyers are trying to convince the Supreme Court to throw out the sentence in a case that could usher in a fresh wave of political violence ahead of national elections set for next month.

After beginning to hear the case Wednesday, the Supreme Court adjourned its proceedings until Thursday. Mollah’s party, the Jamaat-e-Islami party, issued a statement warning of ”dire consequences” if he was executed.

Thousands of people who supported the execution of Mollah had gathered Tuesday night at a major intersection in the capital, Dhaka, to celebrate, but were instead shocked by the reports of the postponement.

Many Facebook users in Bangladesh expressed their dissatisfaction over the legal tangles that delayed carrying out the death sentence.

As authorities finalised the time for the execution many mobile phone users in Bangladesh got a short message from an unknown number that said if Mollah was executed a civil war could break out. The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission said it is trying to determine who sent the message.

The execution would be the first from special trials begun by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in 2010 for suspects accused of crimes during the nation’s war of independence against Pakistan in 1971.

The election is set for Jan 5, but an alliance led by opposition leader Khaleda Zia plans to boycott it.

Weeks of blockades and general strikes have left nearly 100 people dead since October. Mollah’s party has been banned by the Election Commission from taking part in election.

Mollah’s party and Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party say the trials are a politically motivated bid to weaken the opposition. International human rights groups have raised questions about the impartiality of the tribunal. Authorities have denied the allegations.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, issued a statement late Tuesday urging Hasina to stay the execution, saying the trial did not meet international standards.

Mollah was found guilty by the special tribunal in February and sentenced to life in prison. The Supreme Court changed the penalty to a death sentence in September, triggering deadly clashes and a nationwide general strike.

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