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18 Jun 2017

3 killed as shots ring out in Darjeeling, cop’s throat slit

Deep Gazmer & Jayanta Gupta, Jun 18, 2017, DARJEELING: The Darjeeling stand-off on Saturday saw Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM), which is spearheading a movement for a separate state of Gorkhaland to be carved out of West Bengal, claiming three supporters' deaths in police firing, and one central paramilitary force assistant commandant admitted to hospital, battling for life after having his throat slit by agitators. 
The state administration denied GJM's charge, saying the police never opened fire. It, instead, accused GJM supporters of opening fire but stayed mum on the casualty count. At least four places within 10km of Darjeeling town turned into war zones right from Saturday morning as GJM supporters, armed with stones, bottles and kukris, engaged security forces in several rounds of pitched battle. 
The main conflagration points were Singmari, Ghoom, Lebong and Chowkbazar, each of these places seeing up to 2,000 GJM supporters hitting the streets, setting vehicles on fire and targeting security forces and government establishments. GJM accused cops of firing at protesters near St Joseph's College in Singmari, about five km from Darjeeling town, and Ghoom.
"Three of our supporters... died in police firing," GJM member Vinay Tamang said. But additional directorgeneral (law & order) Anuj Sharma said the gunshots came from the other side. Indian Reserve Battalion (IRB) assistant commandant Kiran Tamang had his throat slit when he tried to prevent them from setting police vehicles on fire. The biggest conflagration happened near GJM's main office on Lebong Cart Road, close to St Joseph's College, St Joseph's School, North Point School, Darjeeling Zoo and the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute.
GJM workers threw rocks the size of bricks at policemen and then disappearing around a bend and into alleys uphill. Cops realised around 11.15am that they were heavily outnumbered and fled even as GJM supporters torched police vehicles. Cops regrouped after some time, lobbing tear gas shells, and it was then that gunshots were heard. This protest was boosted by a group from Lebong. Mahila Morcha supporters, carrying the Tricolour and shouting "Jai Gorkha" slogans, were at the vanguard of the Lebong march with the menfolk — carrying traditional weapons — marching behind them. Stopped by security forces, they broke the barricade but, without resorting to violence, marched ahead and took up position in Singmari where rallies from other points converged before the showdown.
GJM supporters in Ghoom and Kurseong took a cue from Nandigram, felling trees to block police vehicles. The provocation for the violence, GJM members said, seemed to be two incidents, including an earlymorning police raid on Tamang's house, two days after security forces broke into GJM president Bimal Gurung's residence. 
Tamang's family members complained that police broke into their residence around 3 am and ransacked it. Trinamool members accompanied police in the raid, the Tamang family alleged. Security forces also picked up college teacher and GJM spokesperson Vikram Rai, son of Darjeeling MLA Asok Rai, but later released him. 
The violence prompted the state government to call a peace meeting with all Hills parties in Siliguri on June 22. But, shortly after the announcement, GJM president Gurung stepped up the ante, asking every Gorkha family to come out against the state administration for "unleasinhing this repression". "I salute the martyrs killed in police firing," Gurung said from an undisclosed location.
The party has called a 12-hour bandh against police atrocities and included Dooars to extend its outreach to the Terai and Dooars regions. The turmoil was set off by the state government's announcement on introducing compulsory teaching of Bengali language in the state's schools.

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