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9 Jul 2017

Darjeeling unrest: 3 killed, Trinamool office set afire; Mamata says Bengal govt ready for talks

Pramod Giri, HT, 8 July 2017 , Siliguri: At least three men were killed in alleged police firing as fresh violence on Saturday engulfed the movement for a Gorkhaland state in the Darjeeling hills, with arsonists targeting the region’s world heritage toy train, a Trinamool Congress office and a police jeep.
Authorities confirmed only one death, but called it an accident.
The Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM), leading the stir for a separate state to be carved out of West Bengal, said police shot dead three people.
The group said Tashi Bhutia, Suraj Sundas and 40-year-old Samir Gurung died of bullet wounds.
“Samir was shot in the head when he was on his way to pay his last respects to Sundas, who was killed in Darjeeling around noon. Gurung was probably shot by CRPF personnel,” Gorkha Janmukti Yuva Morcha president Prakash Gurung said.
Protesters targeted a station of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, popular as the toy train, vandalising furniture and setting a waiting room on fire.
This is second attack on the tourist attraction in the latest round of the Gorkhaland stir that began early June after the Trinamool Congress government made Bengali a compulsory subject for students in all schools in the state.
The majority in Darjeeling speaks Nepali and they opposed the government’s move. The language protest resurrected the region’s longstanding demand for a separate state that dates back to the British era.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee said her government is ready to talk with political parties in the hills should peace return to the region “in the next 10-15 days”. But the Gorkha leaders refused talks until security forces were withdrawn and the demand for a hill state is on the agenda.
The chief minister indicated she was open to discussions with Union home minister Rajnath Singh on the situation. But “the Centre must cooperate … Politics and governance are different”, she said.
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The renewed Darjeeling violence posed a twin challenge for Banerjee, who is battling communal clashes at Basirhat in North 24 Parganas. The Trinamool accuses the BJP, an ally of the GJM, of instigating violence in both places.
“The violence in Darjeeling is a planned one. There are foreign links to this violence,” the chief minister said in Kolkata.
She accused the central government of “disintegrating federalism” by refusing to send paramilitary forces to curb violence in Darjeeling and Basirhat.
But sources in the Union home ministry dismissed the charge, saying West Bengal returned four companies each of BSF and additional paramilitary forces assigned for Basirhat.
The state government called in the army just a week after it was withdrawn from Darjeeling hills.
GJM assistant general secretary Bijay Tamang alleged the government has unleashed a reign of terror in the hills.
The BJP parliamentarian for Darjeeling, SS Ahluwalia, said as much. “Mamata Banerjee is refusing to come to terms with the people. The hill parties want withdrawal of security forces from the hills for peace to return.”
The hills dotted with tea gardens and popular public schools were on the edge since three Gorkhaland campaigners were killed and policemen were wounded in clashes on June 17. The government banned internet services the next day amid an indefinite shutdown called by the protesters.
People threw stones and brickbats as they fought pitched battles with police on Saturday. A Trinamool office at George Bazar was set ablaze and police responded with tear gas shells and rubber bullets.
(With inputs from HT correspondent in Kolkata and agencies)

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