Only minor outbursts on day one as police and protesters were unwilling to risk a confrontation

The police and protesters engaged in a war of nerves with both parties unwilling to risk a confrontation on the first day of the continuing siege of the Secretariat by the Left Democratic Front (LDF) here on Monday.

The determination of the law-enforcers to keep the road from Bakery Junction to the Cantonment Gate of the Secretariat open at any cost, however, became a contentious issue in the afternoon.

Thousands of protesters, most of them Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI-M] workers, laid siege to the three gates of the Secretariat in the morning. The police watched them from behind well-secured iron barricades for the better part of the day.

Unimpeded movement of traffic to and from the Secretariat prompted the agitators to make a series of forays to block the road. The police, with help of local CPI(M) leaders, kept the protesters at bay.

The agitators thronged the sides of the road and jeered and threatened Secretariat employees who streamed out of the complex in the evening.

The agitators heckled women employees most. A few of them attempted to assault Jaya James, a government typist, near Palayam.

The police had decided against moving the Secretariat staff in convoys after protesters stoned government vehicles a few minutes before 4 p.m. The police decision drew the ire of the Secretariat staff, chiefly women, who had been promised safe transport home after work. The protests were a mix of revelry and expressions of anger against the government. It manifested in destruction of government publicity material and sporadic throwing of stones, bottles and sticks at the police and spontaneous singing of songs and clapping.

The agitators attempted to stop police and NCC units headed to the Central Stadium to rehearse the Independence Day parade.

They stoned a government vehicle near Museum, injuring its driver. A CPI(M) worker was injured when a stone thrown in anger at the police missed its target and hit him instead.

The day started early both for the police and the protesters. At dusk, both groups were weary and the Secretariat area resembled a large fairground. The policemen watched listlessly as tired CPI(M) workers squatted or slept on the road. Many law-enforcers had been at their posts since 5 a.m., with only brief intervals for breakfast and lunch. Poetry recitals, fiery political speeches, and folk art performances kept the agitators entertained. With the government closing down the Secretariat for two days, the protesters and the police were likely to scale down their numbers.

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