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Published: Tuesday June 24, 2014 MYT 4:47:41 PM
Updated: Tuesday June 24, 2014 MYT 4:50:00 PM

Bangladesh Islamist party chief war crimes verdict postponed

DHAKA (Reuters) - A Bangladeshi war crimes tribunal deferred its verdict on an Islamist party chief already sentenced to death in a separate case on Tuesday because he is sick, lawyers said.

Motiur Rahman Nizami, 69, head of Jamaat-e-Islami party, has been charged with 16 crimes including genocide, rape, arson and killing of intellectuals during the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.

Nizami, a former minister during former premier Begum Khaleda Zia's last term in 2001-2006, has been in jail since 2010 when he was charged with war crimes.

He was sentenced to death in January in the country's biggest arms smuggling case.

This will be the first verdict on war crimes charges since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina came to power for a second consecutive term in an election in January boycotted by the main opposition.

An Islamist politician was hanged in December, the first war crimes execution in Bangladesh.

Violent protests over the war crimes trials are one of the main challenges facing Hasina, who opened an inquiry into abuses committed during the war in 2010.

More than 200 people were killed in clashes last year, most of them Islamist party activists and members of the security forces.

The tribunals have so far handed down 10 verdicts, including eight death sentences and two life imprisonments.

The tribunals have angered Islamists who say they are a politically motivated attempt to persecute the leadership of Jamaat-e-Islami, the main Islamist party in Bangladesh and a key part of the opposition coalition.

What was East Pakistan at the end of British rule in 1947 broke away into independent Bangladesh in 1971 after a war between Bangladeshi nationalists, backed by India, and Pakistani forces. About three million people were killed in the war.

Some factions in Bangladesh opposed the break with Pakistan, including Jamaat. Its leaders have denied involvement in war crimes.

(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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