DHAKA - Clashes in Bangladesh between police and supporters of the country's biggest Islamic party left five dead on Friday during protests linked to ongoing war crimes trials, police and media said.
Jamaat-e-Islami activists have been staging countrywide strikes and rallies for months to protest against the trials which have placed nearly their entire party leadership in the dock, in cases dating back to the 1971 independence war.
Friday's first incident occurred when lawmakers entered a village in northwestern Chapainawabganj district to arrest party activists accused of torching a power plant in such a protest last month.
About 6,000 villagers gathered to try and prevent the arrests, leading police to open fire.
"We at first used rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the mob, but they attacked us with hand bombs, sticks and bricks, forcing us to open fire," deputy district police chief Motiur Rahman told AFP.
"We have heard the news of three men killed, but we have not seen any dead bodies," he said.
Local media reports quoted villagers saying three Jamaat supporters were killed, two on the spot and one on the way to hospital.
In a separate but similar wave of protests in northwestern Sirajganj district, two Jamaat supporters died after being hit with bullets, local police chief Shamsul Huq told AFP.
Police officers went to arrest an activist also accused of violence last month while protesting against the war crimes trial, but they too faced defiance from several thousand villagers.
"They hurled handmade bombs and fired at us. We also retaliated with gun fire," Huq said.
With the latest deaths, 94 people have now been killed in clashes linked to the trials since the war crimes court handed down the first of its verdicts in January over atrocities during Bangladesh's independence struggle from Pakistan.
Two Jamaat leaders have already been convicted by the tribunal, which critics accuse of trumping up charges in a bid by the government to settle political scores, rather than deliver justice.
The government says the trials are needed to heal the wounds of the 1971 war in which it says three million people were killed and 200,000 women raped. Independent estimates put the death toll between 300,000 and 500,000.