The anti-US protests that continued in the city for the fifth day on Tuesday turned ugly when members of over 20 Islamic organisations clashed with the police on the stretch of Anna Salai between Spencer Plaza and Buhari restaurant.
As a result, traffic moved at a snail’s pace for several hours between Gemini Flyover and Spencer Plaza and also the smaller roads branching out of this stretch; while the movement of vehicles was completely blocked beyond Spencer junction.
Around 2 p.m., a stage was erected next to Tarapore Towers, a little away from Makka Masjid on Anna Salai, and protesters slowly began gathering. The protest that started around 3.30 p.m. saw hundreds of people who burnt US flags and effigies of US President Barack Obama, flung footwear on pictures, raised anti-US slogans and held banners that depicted American leaders in poor light.
Banners with text in Tamil that translated to ‘Prophet is dearer to us than our lives’, were distributed to by-standers who shouted in support. Among the protesters were seven-year-olds, Abbas and Shabbir, both wearing identical sherwanis and carrying posters that said, ‘We hate those who hate prophet’.
Also, part of the protests was a group of school children in white and brown uniforms hauling bags that contained writing pads. “We came straight after writing the science exam,” said Karim, as he tied his shoes with US flags before sprinting off to join a group that was burning effigies of Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Around 5 p.m., when the protesters were done with sloganeering and agitating, organisers announced in the microphones “Veetuku ponga, dhayava seidhu veetuku ponga (Please go home),” and urged them to clear off.
But fifteen minutes later, several youth suddenly turned violent, broke the barricades and began marching towards the US consulate. Police battalion stationed near the Spencer Plaza junction stopped the protesters and did not allow them to proceed further. Then, all of a sudden, there was deafening silence for nearly 15 minutes as protesters performed namaaz on the road.
“Whatever happens, we will ensure that we pray on time, wherever we are,” said a protester. Soon after the prayers, some members of the crowd began throwing stones at the police, which resorted to lathicharge. Several among the protesters sincerely attempted to prevent the mob from resorting to violence. But the situation went out of control.
An angry group set a few motorcycles on fire and damaged an MTC bus. Traffic came to a standstill from Spencer Plaza to Dams Road and Thousands Light for half hour after police lathicharged the protesters. Some protesters and policemen were injured in the clash that ensued. By 6 p.m., the protesters slowly dispersed and traffic returned to normalcy in half hour.
The protesting groups included members of Socialist Democratic Party of India, Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagham, India Thowheeth Jamath and Jamath Ulama Sabai. “This is the first time clergies of important mosques in the city are taking part. We are trying our best to make it peaceful,” said Ashraf Jahangir, a protester who tried to calm down those getting violent.
Anticipating a large turnout of protesters, police cordoned off main roads and appointed special teams at several junctions, including Spencer Plaza, LIC building and Royapettah signal, among others. Also, most shops in the area closed down when the situation grew tense.
According to police sources, over 20 Muslim groups obtained police permission for a peaceful protest near Tarapore Towers on Anna Salai.