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Sunday, November 8, 1998 Published at 09:46 GMT

World: South Asia

Death for Bangladesh coup plotters

Sheikh Mujib's home is now a museum to his memory

Fifteen people accused of assassinating Bangladesh's independence leader have been sentenced to death by firing squad.

The sentences were handed down after a two-year trial of former army officers in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka.

David Chazan: Troops are on alert in Dhaka
Four others were acquitted for lack of evidence.

Sheikh Mujib Rahman was killed 23 years ago, but his killing continues to have political resonance.

His supporters celebrated in the streets outside the court as the verdict was handed down.

Only five of the accused, including three of those found guilty, were present at the trial. The others were tried in their absence are thought to be in exile.

Those facing the firing squad have 90 days to launch an appeal which would go to a higher court and it could be more than a year before the sentences are carried out.

[ image: Supporters of Sheikh Mujib demonstrate in Dhaka]
Supporters of Sheikh Mujib demonstrate in Dhaka
Among those convicted and in custody is Farooq Rahman, a former army colonel said to have been one of the main plotters.

He gave a number of television and newspaper interviews after the sheikh's assassination admitting his involvement.

There has been little political reaction to the verdicts.

But the opposition Bangladesh National Party is angry at another trial due to start where three of its members are defendants.

Dhaka Correspondent David Chazan: "Acrimony is increasing"
Three opposition politicians, arrested in September, face charges of conspiracy to murder in 1975 four of the sheikh's allies and former ministers. They will be on trial with three of those accused of murdering Sheikh Mujib.

The opposition has called for a 48-hour general strike to start on Monday to protest against the arrests.

Founding father

Sheikh Mujib was the figurehead of the struggle to free Bangladesh from Pakistani rule.

After independence in 1971, he returned from jail in Pakistan a national hero.

[ image: The poster demands justice]
The poster demands justice
He became known as Bongobondhu, which literally means the Bengali's friend and was held in near religious reverence as the father of the nation.

But he used his enormous charisma to concentrate power in his own hands, creating a one party state.

His prestige waned when he was criticised over his handling of the famine, which broke out after severe floods in 1974, and when he alienated the army, his fate was sealed.

Sheikh Mujib was killed along with 21 members of his family, including his wife and 10-year old son, in a dawn attack on his Dhaka villa by more than 100 soldiers early on the morning of 15 August 1975. It was only four years after his triumphal homecoming.

It was not until his daughter, Sheikh Hasina was elected Prime Minister two years ago, that five of the army officers accused of masterminding the coup were brought to justice.

Political instability

[ image: Sheikh Mujib's daughter is now prime minister]
Sheikh Mujib's daughter is now prime minister
Sheikh Mujib's assassination plunged Bangladesh into a long period of coups, counter-coups and political blood letting.

Among the many victims were the four close aides and former ministers whose deaths are the subject of the upcoming trial.

They were shot at close range in a Dhaka jail cell eight weeks after the sheikh's murder.

The main opposition party led by Khaleda Zia, whose husband President Zia was assassinated six years after Sheikh Mujib, accuses Sheikh Hasina of waging a political vendetta.

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Amnesty International: Trial of Alleged Killers of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and His Family Members

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