The Maoists have called for a nationwide 48-hour bandh from Wednesday to protest the “murder” of senior Maoist leader Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad, who was killed by the Andhra Pradesh police recently.

On July 2, the Andhra Pradesh police announced that Azad, a member and spokesman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and a member of the Polit Bureau, was killed in an encounter in Adilabad district, on the Andhra Pradesh-Maharashtra border.

However, the CPI (Maoist) refuted this and claimed that the Andhra Pradesh police arrested Azad in Nagpur and later killed him in Adilabad.

“Comrade Azad was on his way to a meeting of the Central Committee when he was arrested in Nagpur on July 1 and later killed by the police,” Khokon, a member of the State Committee of the CPI (Maoist) in West Bengal, told The Hindu over telephone from an undisclosed location on Sunday.

The Central Committee was to have discussed the proposed ceasefire by the Centre and Azad was also carrying a letter written to him by Swami Agnivesh in this regard, Mr. Khokon said.

“While on the one hand the UPA government is asking us to come for talks, on the other they are perpetrating such incidents,” he said, urging the people to protest against this “dual stand” of the government.

Mr. Khokon also denied the statement of Bapi Mahato, one of the main accused in the May 28 Jnaneswari Express derailment that claimed 150 lives, that the Maoists were involved in the planning of the train disaster.

“Bapi Mahato has been forced by the police to make those comments about Maoist involvement in the incident,” Mr. Khokon said.

Even though more than a month has passed since the tragedy, night-running of trains in Maoist-affected areas of the State continued to be suspended. A press release from the South Eastern Railway said the suspension of trains between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. would be extended until July 9.

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