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Islamist's death sentence commuted

Bangladesh's Supreme Court has commuted the death sentence for a leader of an Islamic political party to imprisonment until death.

The original sentencing of Delwar Hossain Sayedee, a leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, for war crimes during the nation's 1971 independence war against Pakistan, sparked riots last year.

Chief Justice Muzammel Hossain of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court said Sayedee would remain imprisoned "for the rest of his natural life".

The judge did not explain his decision to reduce the sentence.

A war crimes tribunal convicted Sayedee in February last year of 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 three million people and forced millions to flee to neighbouring India.

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina has called the trials a long-overdue effort to obtain justice against 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 welcomed the verdict but said he needed to see the full decision before he could comment further. Sayedee's defence said he will appeal.

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