Dhaka, Feb 08 (IANS): A Bangladesh court on Thursday sentenced former Prime Minister and the country's main opposition leader Khaleda Zia to five years in prison on corruption charges.
Amid heightened security across Bangladesh, the special judge's court convicted the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) chairperson of embezzling $252,000 in foreign donations for the Zia Orphanage Trust, bdnews24.com reported.
Police tear-gassed thousands of Zia's supporters to break up protests before the verdict was announced.
In the same case, Zia's eldest son and BNP's senior Vice-Chairman Tarique Rahman was given 10 years in jail. A similar jail term was handed down to four of her aides.
Zia, 72, denies misusing international funds donated to the charitable children's trust. The sentence means she is barred from parliamentary polls due this year. She said the charges were "politically motivated".
The case is one of dozens pending against Zia, who has been a rival of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for decades.
"Since the court has been able to prove the charges against her and considering her social and physical status, Zia has been sentenced to five years in jail," the judge said.
Traffic was thrown out of gear and shops closed as security forces took Zia to jail after the verdict. Prosecution sources told the Daily Star newspaper that Zia will be kept at the old Dhaka Central Jail.
"I will be back. Do not worry and be strong," she told weeping relatives, according to the Star.
Earlier, there were clashes between security forces and opposition protesters who had defied security measures to escort the car taking Zia to court.
Several police officers were injured in the violence a few kilometres from the court, reports said.
The trial against Zia centred around the donation intended for an orphanage trust set up when she was Prime Minister.
The charges against her had already led to her boycotting elections in 2014, which triggered widespread protests at that time.
Zia's BNP said hundreds of its supporters were arrested in the run-up to the verdict, adding that it will hold protests on Friday against the conviction.