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9 Jul 2017

Fresh flare-up in hills - Police firing kills 3, say protesters; Morcha complains no party team visited hills

The waiting room of the Sonada railway station on fire on Saturday. Picture by Passang Yolmo
TT, Calcutta, July 8: Darjeeling burst back into the political agenda today after the death of a Gorkhaland supporter in alleged police firing triggered clashes and arson and prompted the recall of the army.
The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha said two more people were killed in police firing. Officials declined comment.
A Morcha leader suggested that the hills, where an indefinite shutdown has been in force for a month, were left to fend for themselves by mainstream political parties against the backdrop of other issues such as the communal unrest in North 24-Parganas.
"While teams from various political parties are visiting Basirhat, not a single team has visited Darjeeling. This makes us wonder whether we are really considered citizens of the country," Morcha assistant general secretary Binay Tamang said.
The worst clashes of the day broke out in and around Sadar police station. Some of the places hit by the violence:
• Sonada, 16km from Darjeeling town, where protesters torched the railway station, police barracks, a police mess and a traffic outpost.
• Darjeeling town, where vandals targeted the offices of the deputy superintendent of police and the food and civil supplies department.
• Kalimpong, where the Lepcha Rural Development Office in Kalimpong was partially burnt.
The immediate trigger for the fresh flare-up was the death of Tashi Bhutia, 31, last night in Sonada.
Morcha sources alleged that Suraj Sundas, 35, was killed less than 100 metres from Darjeeling Sadar police station around 12.30pm today while Samir Subba, 38, was shot dead late in the evening at Singamari. Sundas was a porter and Subba was a cook.
"Tashi Bhutia was shot by the police while on his way to get medicines for his elder brother around 11pm," GNLF spokesperson Neeraj Zimba said. "He was a law-abiding citizen and an ardent Gorkhaland supporter."
While the protesters accused the police of firing without provocation, an officer said stones had been thrown at a police patrol around 11 last night, triggering a clash.
Jawed Shamim, inspector-general of police, said: "An incident occurred last night where a person died. We are looking at what happened and how."
Word that Bhutia was killed while going to buy medicines set passions aflame this morning. The Gorkha National Liberation Front and the Morcha together protested the death.
A rally was held in Sonada around 10am today while Bhutia's body was being taken to Darjeeling for the post-mortem. An eyewitness said: "The rallyists gathered near the railway station. A tear gas shell was lobbed from the traffic outpost, which is on a higher elevation, triggering stone-throwing."
The police said the mob attacked the outpost first. Shamim and Darjeeling superintendent of police Akhilesh Chaturvedi rushed to Sonada with reinforcements and spoke to the protesters to pacify them.
In Darjeeling, a huge crowd had gathered at the Motor Stand when the convoy carrying Bhutia's body arrived around 11.30am.
The police were almost entirely stationed at Sadar police station, 150 metres away around a bend. A section of the crowd hurled stones at the police, leading to clashes that continued till around 5pm.
Police sources said the force had shown restraint in spite of "continual attacks on Sadar police station". "Stones and bottles were showered on us, and we had to resort to tear gas and non-lethal weapons."
The army hit the streets around 2.30pm on a requisition from the administration.
Tamang, the Morcha leader, demanded President's rule.
The Gorkhaland Movement Coordination Committee, formed by multiple hill parties to lead the statehood movement, held an emergency meeting in Kalimpong and demanded a judicial inquiry into the deaths.
It sought the Centre's immediate intervention to control the situation and "provide justice to Gorkhas by fulfilling the demand for Gorkhaland".
Kalyan Dewan, coordinator of the committee, said the panel would write to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, home minister Rajnath Singh and Bengal governor Keshari Nath Tripathi. He said the situation could turn into a "human catastrophe".

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