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10 Jun 2017

Cops collect proof, plan to wait for action - Glare on stone throwers at vantage point

Army trucks patrol a street in Darjeeling on Friday. Picture by Passang Yolmo
TT, Darjeeling, June 9: Police have collected video footage of youths who hurled stones at men and women in uniform here yesterday, but the law enforcers' immediate priority is to restore peace in the hills and not to pursue the attackers.
The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha president, Bimal Gurung, told The Telegraph today that Trinamul supporters were behind the stone pelting and the police had fired teargas at the protestors when an effigy of Mamata Banerjee was set on fire.
"A primary scan of the video grabs and footage collected so far has revealed that stones were being hurled by a section of youths among the protestors even before an effigy was set ablaze. This was around 2.45pm yesterday," said a police officer.
The intensity of the stone hurling shot up and even blocks of marbles landed on the police force from the Morcha crowd that had assembled in and around Gorkha Rangamanch Bhavan.
But, sources said, the Mamata government decided against acting against the stone throwers immediately.
An NBSTC bus charred in the violence in Darjeeling. Picture by Passang Yolmo
"Although we have identified some of the trouble creators during yesterday's violence, we don't want to rush through arrests or launch a crackdown to avoid a repeat of the Gorkhaland agitation that rocked the Darjeeling hills in the 80s. Our priority now is to restore peace in the hills," said a police officer.
However, a senior officer said chances of some top Morcha leaders being rounded up in connection with yesterday's violence couldn't be ruled out.
A section of police officers thinks some Morcha cadres had come armed to create trouble and they had set vehicles afire and attacked the law enforcers not spontaneously.
"After the first round of the attack on the police, we resorted to tear gas shelling as the plan was to contain any law and order problem with minimum use of force. But the protestors were at their belligerent best and their body language, captured in the video, showed that they wanted a fight with the force," said the police officer.
In the clash that followed, as the police grappled to ensure that the protestors didn't breach the barricade - that was set up to prevent them from reaching Raj Bhavan - a section of the Morcha supporters took a road winding up to South Hill College to take a vantage point.
"The real stone throwing started from there, leaving a section of the police force completely clueless. Small blocks of marble and bottles seemed to have flied in from all sides. We are still trying to understand whether this idea of arriving at a vantage point to attack the police was all spontaneous or somewhat planned in advance," said the officer. 
So, from where did the protestors get marble chunks?
Sources said marble slabs were kept around Gorkha Rangmanch Bhavan, where Gurung was holding a meeting, probably for some repairs.
Yesterday afternoon, a section of the protestors rushed inside the compound of the Bhavan to pick up the slabs, break them into pieces before hurling them at the police.
Till now, separate cases of arson, assault and attacking police officers have been lodged. The police are also trying to find out why their vehicles were torched.
On condition of anonymity, a GTA Sabha member said: "We attacked police jeeps because they were being used to bring in reinforcements to counter the protestors yesterday afternoon. We would have been out-numbed after a point of time."
Senior officers with previous law and order background in the hills, including S.N. Gupta, and Jawed Shamim, have been called in to help the district police to draw up necessary plans. The sources claimed a special situation monitoring cell had been set up in the police lines here with direct contact to Richmond Hill where the chief minister had been staying.
Sources in Eastern Command in Calcutta said a total of six columns of the army, each comprising 43 personnel, were deployed in the hills.

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