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17 Jun 2017

Scarves for army, stones for cops

A woman greets an army officer with a silk scarf outside Gurung’s office. Picture by Passang Yolmo
Kinsuk Basu and Vivek Chhetri, TT, Darjeeling, June 16: Women supporters of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha today waved the national flag to welcome a group of army soldiers in Darjeeling and even offered silk scarves to some, the warm reception replacing the hostility shown to police yesterday.
"Some of them even showed us empty teargas shells while alleging police excesses," an army officer said.
The Morcha has always welcomed the army's presence in the hills, describing it as proof of the state government's alleged failure in handling law and order in Darjeeling and demanding President's rule in the region.
After the police had raided Morcha chief Bimal Gurung's office in Patlebas yesterday, party supporters had hurled stones and petrol bombs on the force, injuring two police personnel.
Early this morning, two columns of the Maratha Light Infantry reached Patlebas on trucks fitted with red flags. Gun-totting jawans sat on the trucks while a jeep carrying a commandant led the team down the winding road, strewn with stones hurled at the police yesterday.
Outside Gurung's office in Patlebas, the forces stood guard as a group of women protesters tried to barge in. The first row of defence comprised women personnel, who stood with polycarbonate batons and plastic shields. Behind them stood the men in uniform.#
"We will set up two camps around Patlebas. The road where the police were attacked yesterday would be sanitised and any attempt at holding an unlawful assembly would be dealt with firmly," said Birendra, CRPF deputy inspector-general, Siliguri.
The Morcha today urged party cadres from across the hills to march to Patlebas tomorrow.
Birendra, who has earlier served in troubled zones of Jammu and Kashmir and Chhattisgarh, reached Patlebas this afternoon along with commander Sunil Kumar Savita.
Apart from the army, senior police officers Ranvir Kumar and Vivek Sahay reached Darjeeling with a team of seven young IPS officers on special duty this afternoon.
A section of residents, however, wondered if such attempts for a tighter clampdown would be effective in dealing with the demand for Gorkhaland.
"You can buy peace for sometime. But the army or police can't stop people from demanding Gorkhaland," said Ravi Chhetri, a resident of Malidhura, where Gurung has set up a school.
The hills witnessed stray incidents of violence over the past 24 hours.
Around 9.45pm yesterday, suspected Morcha supporters set ablaze a portion of the Gayabari railway station, around 60km from Darjeeling.
In Lodhoma, 65km from Darjeeling town, a billing centre of the West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company Limited was torched.
In Mirik, 50km from Darjeeling, a gram panchayat office was also set on fire.

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