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DHAKA (Reuters) - Bangladesh's Supreme Court on Thursday upheld death sentences on five men convicted of killing the country's independence leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, in an army revolt 34 years ago, lawyers and court officials said.
Mujib, whose daughter Sheikh Hasina is prime minister, was slain with most members of his family in the August 15, 1975 revolt, which ended the nation's first spell of democracy and set the stage for a series of coups and foiled coups.
"Executions of the Mujib killers would relieve the nation of a great burden and restore rule of law," said Abu Yusuf Humayun, a senior state prosecutor.
"We had been waiting so long for the final judgement. Today we have that and hope they will be executed soon," he told reporters at the court.
Fifteen men, mostly former army officers, were sentenced to death by a Dhaka court in 1998, but the High Court later reprieved three of them. Of the remaining 12, six fled, one died abroad and the other five remain in prison awaiting execution.
Lawyers said that following Thursday's ruling the death sentences on all 12 convicts have been retained.
Legal experts said the men on death row would still have the right to apply to the Supreme Court for a review of Thursday's verdict and then finally to the president for mercy.
The trial of Mujib's killers began only after Hasina was first elected prime minister in 1996. The process was slow because of legal complications and came to a halt after her rival, Begum Khaleda Zia, came to power in 2001.
After assuming office for a second spell in January, Hasina vowed to complete the trial of her father's killers as soon as possible.
She and her sister, Sheikh Rehana, survived the 1975 carnage as they were staying abroad at the time, but her mother, three brothers and a host of close relatives were gunned down.
As the verdict was pronounced on Thursday, hundreds of supporters of Hasina and her Awami League party burst into cheers and shouted "justice delayed but not denied."
Heavy security was imposed at the court and throughout the capital for the verdict as authorities feared a backlash by supporters of the killers, but no violence was reported.
"Now a painful saga had come to an end," said senior state attorney Anisul Haque. "This has ushered the country to a new beginning."
Mujib, called Bangabandu (friend of Bangladesh) by his followers, led his country's fight against Pakistan that ended in independence for the former East Pakistan in December 1971.
(Reporting by Anis Ahmed; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Reuters