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Bangladesh Court Commutes Death Sentence of Top Islamist

FILE - Bangladeshi police officers escort Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, center with cap, a leader of Bangladesh's largest Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami, as he comes out after appearing before a special tribunal in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Monday, Nov. 21, 2011.

Bangladesh's Supreme Court has commuted the death sentence of a top Islamist opposition leader convicted of war crimes committed during the country's war of independence with Pakistan in 1971.

Last year's sentencing of Delwar Hossain Sayedee, a leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, triggered weeks of protests and rioting that left more than 100 people dead.

In a surprise ruling Wednesday, Chief Justice Muzammel Hossain said Sayedee would remain imprisoned "for the rest of his natural life."

The 74-year old Sayedee was convicted on eight charges including murder, rape and persecution of the country's minority Hindu community.

Bangladesh, formerly known as East Pakistan, fought a nine-month war against Pakistan in 1971 to obtain its independence. Sayedee's grouping, the Jamaat-e-Islami, was one of several factions in Bangladesh that opposed the break-up. At least 10 of its leaders have been convicted of war crimes, charges they deny.

The government says three million people died in the violence, although other estimates give a lower death toll.