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Army moves into Kolkata to quell violence

Marcus Dam

Protests against grant of visa to Taslima; It is unfortunate and has tarnished the city’s name: Buddhadeb

KOLKATA: The Army, at the instance of the West Bengal government, moved into the capital on Wednesday to quell disturbances in the central areas, where demonstrators, seeking cancellation of visa for the controversial Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen, turned violent.

Their agitation was in response to a call by the All-India Minority Forum (AIMF) to set up roadblocks. It was also in protest against the recent developments in Nandigram.

The Army began route marches in the affected areas after 3 p.m. The government imposed curfew in some areas from 10 p.m. and the order will be in force till 6 a.m. on Thursday. Security was intensified in minority-dominated areas.

Mobs attacked over 20 vehicles, including state buses, and set some on fire. They blocked roads and hurled bricks and missiles at the police and personnel of the Rapid Action Force. Some protesters, carrying swords, charged at the securitymen.

As attempts to disperse them with batons failed, the police burst teargas shells in several areas. The disturbances were widespread in central Kolkata, which turned into a virtual battlefield.

Thirty-five policemen, including two officials of Deputy Commissioner rank, sustained injuries. Nearly 60 people were arrested in connection with the violence.

School-children spent restless hours in their buses which were stranded due to traffic disruptions. Two offices of the CPI(M), and journalists also came under attack.

Describing the turn of events as “unfortunate,” Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said the violence had “tarnished the name of the city.”

He reviewed the situation through the day with senior State and police officials at the Secretariat.

The AIMF leaders admitted that the situation had gone out of their hands. In some areas “the police had provoked the demonstrators,” Idris Ali, one of them, alleged.

Home Secretary Prasad Ranjan Ray said the roadblock programme was “more or less peaceful” until a “large group of unorganised groups of people started gathering” and began attacking vehicles and the police.

The government was ascertaining whether any group had instigated the trouble-makers.

The visa for Ms. Nasreen was extended in August for six months; it is due to expire on February 17, 2008. She has been living in the city, which she has “adopted as [her] home” for the past few years, after having been exiled from Bangladesh following protests against her works.

A section of the Islamic clergy has also been demanding her expulsion from Kolkata. The last time the Army was deployed in the city was in December 1992 during the riots that followed the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya.

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