B'desh allows appeals over killing of former leader

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DHAKA, Sep 23 (Reuters) Bangladesh's Supreme Court has granted five former army officers sentenced to death for killing the country's independence leader 32 year ago permission to appeal against their convictions, court officials said today.

The then President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and six members of his family were shot dead in their home before dawn, on August 15, 1975, in an army coup.

''The Supreme Court has asked five detained convicts to submit their appeal against a High Court verdict that ordered them to hang, by October 30,'' a court registrar said.

The High Court in 2001 ordered 12 former army officers to hang for the murders. Five of them, including one extradited by the United States in June, are now in custody awaiting execution.

Of the remainder, six were believed to be in hiding abroad and were being hunted by Interpol. The 12th ex-officer died in Zimbabwe while on the run a couple years ago, foreign ministry officials said.

The trial of the former officers was ordered only after Mujib's daughter, Sheikh Hasina, became prime minister in 1996. Hasina and her younger sister were out of the country the day the other members of their family were killed.

Mujib was the top leader of the Bengalis in former East Pakistan and helped lead the country during a war of independence from Pakistan in 1971.

The Awami League, one of the country's two biggest parties that was founded by Mujib more then a half century ago, expressed shock at the decision of the Supreme Court.

''The nation is shocked and frustrated as the Supreme Court granted the self-confessed killers permission to appeal,'' Zillur Rahman, acting chief of Awami League, told reporters.'' REUTERS SG KN1512

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