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Bangladesh court commutes death sentence of Islamist to imprisonment until death

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DHAKA, Bangladesh — Bangladesh's Supreme Court commuted on Wednesday the death sentence of an Islamist political leader whose conviction last year for war crimes during the nation's 1971 war for independence sparked deadly protests.

Delwar Hossain Sayedee, one of the top leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami, must remain in prison "for the rest of his natural life," Chief Justice Muzammel Hossain said.

The judge did not explain his reason for reducing the sentence.

PHOTO: Protestors run for cover as Bangladeshi police use teargas and water cannon to break up a protest against a court ruling commuting the death sentence of Jamaat-e-Islami leader Delwar Hossain Sayedee, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014. Sayedee must remain in prison "for the rest of his natural life," Chief Justice Muzammel Hossain said. A war crimes tribunal convicted the Islamist political leader in February 2013 for eight counts involving mass killings, rape and atrocities committed during the nine-month war against Pakistan in 1971. (AP Photo/A.M. Ahad)
Protestors run for cover as Bangladeshi police use teargas and water cannon to break up a protest against a court ruling commuting the death sentence of Jamaat-e-Islami leader Delwar Hossain Sayedee, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014. Sayedee must remain in prison "for the rest of his natural life," Chief Justice Muzammel Hossain said. A war crimes tribunal convicted the Islamist political leader in February 2013 for eight counts involving mass killings, rape and atrocities committed during the nine-month war against Pakistan in 1971. (AP Photo/A.M. Ahad)

Jamaat-e-Islami called for a daylong general strike for Thursday to denounce the verdict, saying Sayedee was innocent.

A war crimes tribunal convicted Sayedee in February 2013 on eight counts involving mass killings, rape and atrocities committed during the nine-month war against Pakistan in 1971. His death sentence touched off days of clashes that killed at least 70 people across the country.

Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest Islamist party in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, campaigned against the independence war but denies committing any atrocities. Bangladesh says the war killed 3 million people and forced millions more to flee to neighboring India.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has called the trials a long-overdue effort to obtain justice for war criminals four decades after Bangladesh split from Pakistan. But critics say she is using the tribunals to weaken the country's opposition parties.

Prosecutor Tureen Afroze said he guardedly welcomed the verdict but needs to see the full decision before he can comment further. Sayedee's defense said he will appeal.

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PHOTO: A Bangladeshi campaigner for capital punishment for all war crime suspects involved in the 1971 war of independence holds a noose during a protest against a court ruling commuting the death sentence of Jamaat-e-Islami leader Delwar Hossain Sayedee, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014. Sayedee must remain in prison "for the rest of his natural life," Chief Justice Muzammel Hossain said. A war crimes tribunal convicted the Islamist political leader in February 2013 for eight counts involving mass killings, rape and atrocities committed during the nine-month war against Pakistan in 1971. (AP Photo/A.M. Ahad)
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