Bangladesh opposition leader's execution approved

Relatives of Islamist leader Abdul Quader Mollah drive out of Dhaka Central Jail after meeting him.

A Bangladesh court rejected Abdul Quader Mollah's request for a review of his death sentence for war crimes committed during the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.

DHAKA — Bangladesh's Supreme Court on Thursday cleared the way for the execution of an Islamist war criminal, rejecting his request for a review of the death sentence, in a case that has heightened political tension less than a month before elections are due.

Abdul Quader Mollah, found guilty of war crimes committed during the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan, was due to be hanged at Dhaka Central Jail just after midnight on Wednesday, but his lawyers earned a last-minute reprieve.

Related: Bangladeshis demand death for war crimes convict

On Thursday, a panel of five judges led by Chief Justice Mohammad Mojammel Hossain rejected the petition after hearing arguments on the appeal against the death penalty, a state prosecutor said. No further details were immediately available.

Mollah is assistant secretary general of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, which is barred from contesting elections but plays a key role in the opposition movement led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

He is one of five Islamist leaders condemned to death by Bangladesh's International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), set up in 2010 to investigate atrocities perpetrated during the 1971 conflict, in which three million people died.

Critics of the tribunal say it has been used as a political tool by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is locked in a long and poisonous feud with BNP leader Begum Khaleda Zia, as a way of weakening the opposition as Jan. 5 elections approach.

But many Bangladeshis support the court, believing that those convicted of war crimes should be punished, underlining how the events of 42 years ago still resonate in an impoverished nation of 160 million deeply divided over the role for Islam.

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