Feb. 8 - Thousands of demonstrators jammed the streets of Dhaka to protest the decision to sentence war criminal Abdul Quader Moolah to life in prison instead of execution. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).
ROUGH CUT - NO REPORTER NARRATION About 100,000 people rallied in Bangladesh's capital on Friday (February 8) to vent their anger at the country's feuding politicians, the fourth day of protests after an Islamist leader convicted of war crimes was spared execution. The sentencing of Abdul Quader Mollah to life in prison by a war crimes tribunal on Tuesday for charges including murder, rape and torture was the second verdict in trials that have reopened the wounds of Bangladesh's 1971 independence conflict. Most Bangladeshis had expected a death sentence to be handed to Mollah, 64, assistant secretary-general of Jamaat-e-Islami - the country's biggest Islamist party. Public outrage was fueled by bloggers and activists using Facebook and other social media websites who called for mass protests. Activists converged on Dhaka from several outlying areas on Friday, answering the call of protest leaders who appealed for a mass rally. The 100,000-strong crowd that gathered in the capital's Shahbag Avenue, mainly young people, dwarfed the crowds of about 10,000 that had turned out in previous days. Many protesters dubbed Shahbag Avenue "Bangladesh's Tahrir Square", recalling the scene of protests in Cairo which led to the overthrow of Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Protesters enraged by Mollah's verdict have increasingly turned their anger towards the country's main political parties, because they waited four decades to bring war criminals to trial and are feuding over the validity of the war crimes tribunal. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's ruling Awami party and the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of her arch enemy, former premier Begum Khaleda Zia, have rotated power since 1991. Hasina set up the tribunal in 2010 to investigate abuses during the 1971 war. But the BNP and its ally Jamaat-e-Islami, the country's other main opposition party, say she is using it as a political weapon against them, a charge Hasina denies. Khaleda has branded the tribunal a "farce". The activists in Dhaka said they would continue their protest until the authorities put all war criminals to death. As night fell, the whole area was lit up by thousands of candle. In a sign of the growing resentment towards politicians, the protesters refused to allow political leaders to speak at the rally. Instead, they gave the floor to students and teachers, cultural activists and war veterans - who all pledged to support the young protesters.