Chennai streets turn a battleground

Arson and stone throwing send normal life out of gear in the State capital

Updated - January 24, 2017 06:56 am IST

Published - January 24, 2017 01:10 am IST - CHENNAI:

Protesters and police personnel clash on a road leading to the Marina after police attempted to clear the protesters early on Monday morning.

Protesters and police personnel clash on a road leading to the Marina after police attempted to clear the protesters early on Monday morning.

The largely peaceful agitation of jallikattu supporters escalated into a major arson on Marina Beach here on Monday as miscreants burnt vehicles parked on the premises of a police station in the neighbourhood. More violence followed throughout the day, throwing normalcy out of gear as clashes between the police and protesters intensified. The police burst tear gas shells as the unruly mobthrew stones and hurled petrol bombs. Traffic went haywire, leaving many stranded.

The dramatic day began with an advisory issued by the police to all media houses at 4.18 a.m., appealing to the protesters to leave the Marina. The advisory stated that the government had taken every initiative and had conducted jallikattu on Sunday, as promised, at various places in the State. It argued that the purpose of the protest had been fully achieved.

Meanwhile, a large contingent of police personnel turned up at the Marina and asked the protesters to disperse, but to no avail. Following this, Deputy Commissioner of Police V. Balakrishan arrived at the spot around 7 a.m. and appealed to the agitators to call off their protest. However, a majority of the protesters still refused to leave. Making repeated appeals through loudspeakers, police personnel advanced towards the agitators who were squatting on the lawn opposite Vivevakanandar Illam. The agitators, in anticipation, joined hands and formed a human chain, singing “ Vande Mataram ” and chanting “ Jai Hind ” in a bid to avoid police action. Shortly after, the police began pulling apart the protesters, one after the other. A section of the agitators ran towards the beach, while others fled to nearby buildings.

In the meantime, all the feeder roads leading to the Marina — Dr. Besant Road, Bharathi Road, Wallajah Road and Dr. Radhakrishnan Salai — were blocked to choke access to the protest venue. A group of youth accompanied by fishermen in Nadukuppam tried to break the police cordon on Dr. Besant Road. In the melee, some miscreants threw stones at the police. In retaliation, the police resorted to stone throwing, prompting the miscreants to beat a hasty retreat.

22 policemen injured

Protesters set tyres on fire and rolled them towards the police personnel, besides hurling petrol bombs at them. The police burst tear gas shells in response.

Some of the agitaters even set bikes and autos parked right outside the Ice House police station ablaze. As the fire raged and columns of smoke rose, those police personnel trapped inside the station had to be rescued. At least 22 police personnel were injured in the stone-throwing that followed. In Ayodhya Nagar, youth set fire to a car.

Residents alleged that the police had attacked them with tear gas and lathis and even entered their homes, dragging away some people on suspicion of being protesters.

M. Priya, a 23-year-old resident of Canal Bank Street, said she was inside her house when the police, chasing protesters, climbed the gate, destroyed utensils, spilt food and beat her and her relative.

"We did not even participate in the protest," she said. S. Dakshayani, another resident, claimed that a number of residents had been attacked.

On Venkatrangam (p) Street as well, irate residents, standing behind a barricade, said they had been attacked. Holding a spent tear gas canister, M. Vijaya, said there had been unnecessary violence from the police and accused them of throwing away her household items. D. Poorni, another resident, said her spectacles had been broken and that many residents beaten up.

Many videos of police setting vehicles afire were circulated on social media, including one telecast by News 18 TV channel which caught on camera the incident of a policeman setting fire to a parked auto-rickshaw in Mylapore.

However, City Police Commissioner S. George, speaking to reporters at night, claimed that the videos had been morphed and a digital analysis would be carried out on them soon.

Outside Ice House police station, the charred remains of at least 10 vehicles remained, with the police and members of the public attempting to clear the area. The front portion of the station was burnt and a fire truck had arrived. The stench of hot metal permeated the air. The violence was not confined to areas around the beach alone, but rapidly spread to other localities as well.

Miscreants also set fire to a police van and fire engine that were parked adjacent to the MKB Nagar police station in the evening.

Later at night police fired in the air, reportedly to disperse protesters in Vadapalani and Valasarawakkam.

The people of Nadukuppam alleged that their fishing market had been set on fire by some police personnel.

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