Bangladesh sentences Islamic party leader to life

A Bangladeshi tribunal prosecuting cases stemming from the 1971 independence war sentenced a leader of an Islamic opposition party to life in prison Tuesday, sparking street clashes with police that killed one man and injured several others.

Opposition leaders have criticized the war crimes trials, held 40 years after the country won independence from Pakistan, as an effort to weaken challengers to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government, and human rights groups have raised concerns about their fairness.

In a packed courtroom at the High Court in Dhaka, Judge Obaidul Hasan pronounced Abdul Quader Mollah guilty of killing a student and a family of 11 and of aiding Pakistani troops in killing 369 others. Defense lawyer Abdur Razzaq said he will appeal the verdict.

In anticipation of the verdict, Mollah’s Jamaat-e-Islami party had ordered a nationwide general strike to denounce the trial, shutting down schools and shops and halting most traffic in Dhaka.

Jamaat supporters exploded homemade bombs and clashed with police in parts of the capital, leaving several people injured, said ATN News, a private TV station. The party denounced the verdict and said it was extending the strike through Wednesday.

After the verdict was announced, one man was killed and several others injured when police opened fire at dozens of Jamaat supporters in Chittagong city, 135 miles (216 kilometers) southeast of Dhaka, local police official Shafiqul Islam said. He said police fired after rock throwing protesters attacked them.

Though the sentence was the most serious possible, short of execution, a government official expressed disappointment.

“It did not reflect the people’s expectation. We are frustrated,” Junior Law Minister Qamrul Islam said.

Mollah and five other Jamaat leaders have been on trial before the tribunal on charges they committed atrocities during the nine-month independence war against Pakistan. Last month, the tribunal sentenced former party member Abul Kalam Azad to death in the first war crimes trial verdict.

The tribunal was formed by Hasina’s government in 2010. Jamaat-e-Islami, a key ally of opposition leader Khaleda Zia, says the trials are politically motivated, and Zia, a former prime minister, has called the tribunal a farce.

Authorities deny the claim.

International human rights groups have raised questions about the conduct of the tribunals, including the disappearance — outside the courthouse gates — of a defense witness who was about to testify.

Until it gained independence in 1971, Bangladesh was the eastern wing of Pakistan. Jamaat campaigned against Bangladesh’s independence war and has been accused of forming several groups to help Pakistani troops in killing, rape and arson. The government says Pakistani troops aided by local collaborators killed 3 million people and raped 200,000 women.

Source: AP


Fidel Castro votes in Cuba election

Fidel Castro has voted in Cuba’s parliamentary elections, the first time the frail ex-leader has been seen in public for several months.

State TV showed the 86-year-old voting at a polling station where he is said to have spent up to an hour talking to other voters and the media.

The BBC’s Sarah Rainsford in Havana says he was stooped and spoke with a faint, weak voice.

A crowd surrounded his car, cheering as he was driven off, she adds.

All organised opposition is banned in Cuba and all candidates for elections have been selected by the ruling Communist Party or its affiliated associations.

More than 600 delegates will take their seats in the National Assembly and approve the candidates for Cuba’s key political positions.

With President Raul Castro – Fidel’s younger brother – already 81, Cubans are watching for any sign as to who might follow him, our correspondent says.

The choice of vice-presidents and ministers could suggest who is being groomed to carry on the revolution, she adds.

Source: BBC


Czech upper house votes to impeach president Klaus

The upper house of the Czech parliament impeached outgoing President Vaclav Klaus for treason on Monday, a dramatic but largely symbolic act that nevertheless shows just how deeply the eurosceptic leader angered his left-wing opponents.

The decision by the Senate, dominated by the left, refers the president to the Constitutional Court which will rule on whether he violated the constitution by granting an amnesty to more than 6,000 prisoners serving short jail terms, as well as for other acts.

The upper house voted 38 to 30 in a closed session to bring charges against the president.

The biggest punishment he faces, if found guilty, is losing office, his presidential pension and the right to stand again in future. That is mild given Klaus’s second and final consecutive term runs out on Thursday.

But it would be a blow to the legacy of the right-wing economist who has proved self-conscious about his image, especially compared to the reverence enjoyed by his late predecessor Vaclav Havel.

The treason article of the constitution is only applied to presidents, who cannot be prosecuted in any other way for their actions in office. It has never been used before in modern Czech history.

The court is expected to hear the case in the coming weeks.

The amnesty angered most Czechs because it ended the prosecution of many people investigated for economic crimes such as embezzlement, a sore point in a country where corruption and fraud has topped political debate for years.

Klaus rejected accusations he deliberately formulated the amnesty to let serious criminals go.


The senators also accuse Klaus of flouting the constitution by refusing to ratify European Union treaties, and for declining to rule on the appointment of judges despite being ordered by the courts to do so. In total, the charges include five counts of alleged misbehavior.

One charge by the Senate is that Klaus refused altogether to ratify a plan to set up the ESM bailout fund for euro zone countries, despite the plan being ratified by parliament. That decision, however, did not stop the fund from being created.

“The Senate met its task of protecting the constitution by approving the suit,” said Senator Jiri Dienstbier who was one of the initiators of the impeachment.

“I am glad that the independent Constitutional Court will have the opportunity to consider how deeply the constitution was violated.”

A spokesman for Klaus said he did not know if the president would react to the decision. He said last week the impeachment drive was a political ploy.

“It is sad that some people from our political opposition are using the threat of the constitutional court to deal with their political disagreement,” he said.

While the damage to Klaus’s image will bring satisfaction to many adversaries, even some of Klaus’s opponents said a treason charge was going too far, as did some lawyers.

“The result of a Senate suit would be mainly an inflationary usage of the exceptional constitutional concept of treason,” law professor Jiri Priban wrote in a newspaper article on Monday.

Klaus will be succeeded by former prime minister, the leftist Milos Zeman, on Friday.

The presidential post does not carry much day-to-day executive power, but Zeman will have the right to appoint judges and the leadership of the central bank, and have the power to veto legislation.

Klaus, 71, has said he would devote time to his right-wing think-tank, but also hinted he may seek another political post, possibly even in the European Parliament.

Source: Reuters


Armenia presidential hopeful shot and wounded

A longshot candidate for the Armenian presidency was shot in the chest by an unidentified gunman late Thursday, officials said. Paruir Airikian was hospitalized in stable condition as police searched for the shooter, while the speaker of Parliament suggested the election could be delayed.

Airikian was shot outside his house in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, just before midnight. A neighbor who heard gunshots and cries for help called the police.

Airikian is one of eight candidates in the Feb. 18 presidential vote, which incumbent Serge Sarkisian is expected to easily win. Recent opinion surveys show Airikian getting just over 1 percent of the vote.

Yerevan Clinical Hospital’s chief doctor, Ara Minasian, confirmed that the 63-year-old Airikian was being treated for a single gunshot wound and remained in stable condition.

Eduard Sharmazanov, a deputy speaker of Parliament who is a member of the ruling Republican Party, described the attack on Airikian as a “provocation against democratic, free and transparent elections.”

Armenian parliament speaker Ovik Abramian, who visited Airikian at the hospital, said the attack on the candidate could be an attempt to thwart the election. He said the vote could be postponed if Airikian’s condition prevents him from taking part in the race, but the nation’s election chief refused to comment on the possibility.

Armenia’s constitution requires the vote to be postponed for two weeks if one of the candidates is unable to take part due to circumstances beyond his control. It envisages a further 40-day delay if the problem isn’t solved.

The Armenian presidency is an important position with broad executive powers, and the campaign for the job has been marked by much tension. Airikian, a Soviet-era dissident, briefly joined a hunger strike by another candidate over procedural issues related to the vote.

This landlocked, overwhelmingly Christian nation of 3 million has faced severe economic challenges caused by the closing of its borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan in the wake of a territorial conflict.

The Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan and some adjacent territory has been under the control of Armenian troops and local ethnic Armenian forces since a six-year war ended with a truce in 1994. But international efforts to mediate a settlement have brought no result.

Armenia’s politics have been tense and often mired in violence. In 1999, six gunmen burst into Parliament and killed the prime minister, speaker and six other officials and lawmakers. Nine people were wounded. The attackers said they were driven by a desire to save the country from economic collapse and official corruption. They were sentenced to life in prison and one later committed suicide.

Airikian was a dissident during Soviet times. He was first arrested when he was 20, sentenced to four years in a prison camp and later received another two-year sentence. In 1987 after Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev launched his liberal reforms, Airikian created the National Self-Determination Party. When the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan erupted next year, he accused the Soviet authorities of stirring up violence and was evicted from the country.

Airikian soon returned to his country and took senior positions in Armenia’s parliament and government in the 1990s. He ran unsuccessfully for president in 2003.

Source: AP


CI 75 to be enforced in Akatsi South by-election – EC

The Electoral Commission (EC) has said that the demands of the Constitutional Instrument (CI) 75 will be fully complied with in Tuesday’s by-election to be held in the Akatsi South Constituency.

According to the EC, voters will be identified by verification machines before they cast their ballots.

Speaking on TV3 News, Sylvia Annor, the Principal Public Relations Officer of the EC, pointed out that since the CI 75 is “in vogue” it will be in full force during the by-election, which will get a Member of Parliament to replace Edward Doe Adjaho, who was endorsed by the Sixth Parliament as Speaker on January 7, 2013.

“We have CI 75 now in vogue,” said Ms Annor. “It stipulates that before you go through the process you must go through ‘The voter shall be identified through the verification machine’. Therefore the kind of rules and regulations that pertained during the recent general elections are the same rules that are going to be used for the by-election.”

Already, four candidates including an independent candidate have successfully filed nomination to contest the seat.

The New Patriotic Party did not enter a candidate because they claim it will be against a petition filed by its presidential candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo and his running mate as well as the party’s chairman against the EC at the Supreme Court disputing the process that led to the declarartion of President John Dramani Mahama as winner of the 2012 Elections.