South Asia Theater
Islamist leader Ghulam Azam, 91, was sentenced to 90 years by the Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal (ICTB) on July 15 for crimes against humanity during the country's 1971 independence war. The tribunal stated that Azam deserved capital punishment, but was given a prison term because of his advanced age. Bangladesh maintains that Pakistan's army killed 3 million people and raped 200,000 women with the assistance of local collaborators during the war. From 1969 to 2000, Azam was the leader of Jamaat-e-Islami party, which is accused of organizing the collaborationist attacks. He is the third Islamist leader to be convicted in recent months for violence in the 1971 war. At least three people died in clashes in Dhaka after the verdict was announced. (AP, NYT, BBC News, AFP, Al Jazeera, July 15)
A string of nine near-simultaneous bomb blasts in and around the Mahabodhi temple at Bodh Gaya in India's Bihar state, revered as the birthplace of Buddhism, left two monks injured on July 7. Another two live bombs were reportedly found near the temple and defused There was no damage to the temple, or to the holy bodhi tree within the complex, said to be that under which Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment. The right-opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) immediately accused the central and Bihar governments of failing to take steps to avert the attack despite warnings from the intelligence services.
For those who are following the twin Maoist movements in India and Nepal, there was a delicious irony May 30 when Prachanda, leader of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M), sent a condolence letter to Indian political boss Sonia Gandhi over the recent attack by Maoist Naxalite guerillas in which 27 were killed, including senior leaders of Gandhi's Congress Party. "Our party UCPN-Maoist is deeply shocked and saddened by the demise of leaders and workers of the Indian National Congress in the recent attack in Chattisgarh...unleashed by Indian Maoists," Prachanda wrote. Zee News notes that among the dead was Mahendra Karma, a notorious paramilitary leader who was accused of atrocities against perceived guerilla sympathists. A like letter from Nepali Congress party leader Sushil Koirala said: "I am extremely shocked and deeply saddened by the news of the death of senior Congress leader Mahendra Karma, other leaders and cadres of your party along with other innocent people in the ambush by the Maoists in Chattisgarh."
Naxalite rebels ambushed a convoy in a densely forested area of India's Chhattisgarh state as the Congress party members were returning from a rally May 25, leaving 28 dead and nearly as many injured. Four state party leaders and five police officers were among those killed. Other victims were party supporters. Police identified one of those dead as Mahendra Karma, also known as the "Bastar Tiger," a Congress leader in Chhattisgarh who founded a local militia, the Salwa Judum, to combat the Maoist guerillas. Authorities were forced to rein in the militia after it was accused of atrocities against adivasis—indigenous people on the bottom rungs of India's rigid social ladder. (AP, PTI, Times of India, May 26)
In Dhaka, Bangladesh, an angry May Day march descended on the city center with drums, red flags, and chants of "Hang the killers, Hang the Factory Owners!" In Jakarta, Indonesia, some of the tens of thousands of marchers were dressed as ants—complete with bright red outfits and antennae—to depict the exploitation of workers. In Hong Kong, the ranks of marchers were swollen past 10,000 by striking dockworkers and their supporters. In Greece, transport came to a halt as thousands of public-sector workers walked off the job in a one-day strike. May Day protests in downtown Seattle turned violent, with police using pepper spray to disperse anarchists who pelted them with rocks, bottles, metal pipes, fireworks and a skateboard. (CSM, CNN, AFP, SCMP, May 1)
Garment workers in Bangladesh walked off the job, blocked roads, attacked factories and smashed vehicles April 26, paralyzing at least three industrial areas just outside the capital Dhaka. Some 1,500 workers, many armed with bamboo sticks, marched to the Dhaka headquarters of the main manufacturers association. The uprising began when police fired tear-gas and rubber bullets at anxious relatives as they massed at the site of a collapsed factory where resuce workers were attempting to dig out their loved ones trapped under rubble. About 3,000 people are thought to have been in the Rana Plaza complex in Savar industrial zone on the outskirts of Dhaka, when it collapsed on the morning of April 24 shortly after the workday started. Only some 60 have been found alive; some 1,000 are thought to have escaped unharmed. The complex housed factories that made clothes for retail chains Benetton, Primark, Matalan, Children's Place, Cato Fashions, Mango and others.
In a landmark ruling April 18, India's Supreme Court today rejected an appeal to allow Vedanta Resources to mine the Niyamgiri hills of Orissa state. The court decreed that those most affected by the proposed mine should have a decisive say in whether it goes ahead, recognizing the rights of the Dongria Kondh indigenous people. The decision found that the traditional land rights of the local residents must be "protected and preserved." The project is now suspended until a traditional community assembly, or gram sabha, of the impacted villages can be held to assess the project.
Reuters reports that Muslims are "disappearing" from villages in central Burma, as Buddhist attacks spread from the coastal area where they began last year. A reporter in the village of Sit Kwin (Thayarwady district , Bago division, see map), says the some 100 Muslim residents have all fled, some to displaced persons camps, after a wave of attacks in which their homes, shops and mosques were destroyed, and several killed. Since 42 were killed in violence that erupted March 20 in Meikhtila town (Mandalay division), attacks led by Buddhist militants have spread to at least 10 other towns and villages in central Burma, with the latest only a two-hour drive from the commercial capital, Yangon (Rangoon). (Reuters, March 29)