DHAKA, Bangladesh -- The first official accounts of a failed 1977 coup attempt against President Ziaur Rahman say authorities over a six-month period hanged 561 air force personnel who took part in the abortive military uprising.
'On Oct. 2, 1977, the blackest day in the history of the Bangladesh Air Force, was staged a coup that led to the hanging of 561 airmen,' a 30-page booklet released Monday said.
The booklet, titled 'The History of the Bangladesh Air Force,' said the takeover attempt failed because of action against the rebels by a division of army troops guarding Dhaka. Ziaur was killed in a later coup attempt in 1981.
It did not specify when the hundreds of executions took place, but officials said the men accused of involvement were hanged over a six-month period under the direct orders of the president and special tribunals.
The coup had been planned for Sept. 27, 1977, during an address by Ziaur to air force personnel on Air Force Day, but the ceremony was canceled because of a hijacking involving a Japanese airliner.
The unprecedented official account, printed for internal distribution among the military, said an unspecified number of air force personnel commandeered 25 vehicles and rushed to the airport where air force chief Mohammad Mahamud was negotiating the departure of the plane hijacked by the radical leftist Red Army group.
The booklet detailed how the rebels killed 11 senior military officers, including the chief of intelligence, 'and a large number of others' at the airport after the plane had departed.
It said the coup participants then occupied the television station, but Dhaka's 9th Division moved against them, crushing the insurrection by the end of the day.
The 9th Division shut down Bangladesh broadcast transmissions and the sergeant who gave a speech as coup leader was unable to reach targeted audiences.
Twenty-one coup attempts have been recorded in the turbulent 17-year history of Bangladesh -- formally East Pakistan until it gained independence from Islamabad after an India-backed civil war.
After the assassination of Ziaur by a dissident general, Vice President Abdus Sattar took office Nov. 20, 1981. Lt. Gen. Hussain Muhammad Ershad gained power in a bloodless March 1982 coup and in 1983 declared himself president with the professed aim of speeding the nation's transition to democracy.
National parliamentary elections were held in May 1986. Four years of martial law ended and the constitution was restored Nov. 10, 1986, but there were violent protests against new legislation protecting Ershad from legal challenges. On March 13, Ershad declared Bangladesh no longer was a secular state and would be transformed into an Islamic republic.