Bangladesh sentences 19 to death over 2004 attack

Zia a long rival to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was transferred to hospital because of poor health following a court order

Former State Minister for Home, Lutfozzaman Babar, is among the 19 people who have been sentenced to death.

A Bangladesh court on Wednesday sentenced 19 people to death over a 2004 grenade attack on the current prime minister, although a top opposition leader escaped with a life sentence. The attack killed 24 people, including Ivy Rahman, the wife of former President Zillur Rahman.

Ahead of the verdict, the government took cautionary security measures throughout Dhaka and 4,000 security personnel were deployed in the national capital to maintain law and order, PTI reported.

The attack on an Awami League rally on August 21, 2004 targeted Hasina, now the prime minister of Bangladesh.

Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader said Khaleda can not duck responsibilities for the attack as she was in-charge of the home ministry at the time. "God knows everything. I was not behind it", he said.

BNP Senior Vice Chairman and party chief Khaleda Zia's son Tarique Rahman is among 19 sentenced to life in prison for their roles in the attack. Tariq Rahman was sentenced in absentia, as he lives in London. Eleven other defendants were given six months to two years in prison.

Armed guards stood outside the courtroom in the old part of Dhaka to quell potential protests, but the streets were calm.

Rahman's conviction could help Hasina retain power in elections due in December. She was jailed for five years in February for corruption.

Zia was convicted of embezzling about $250,000 in donations meant for an orphanage trust established when she first became prime minister in 1991.

"My demand is that Khaleda and the ministers of her government be brought to justice (for the grenade attack)", he added.

Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, secretary general of Zia's party, termed the verdict politically motivated and said it was a "naked manifestation of political vengeance" by the ruling party.

Zia faces more than 30 other charges, ranging from corruption to sedition, which her party has denounced as a government effort to keep her out of the elections.

Rahman's lawyer Sanaullah Mia said the charges against his client were politically motivated.

"We are not happy with this judgment as we expected that all of them (BNP members) would get death sentences, especially Tarique", he said.

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