Odisha bandh: Police on alert after fresh violence

Odisha bandh: Police on alert after fresh violence
Bhubaneswar:  The 12-hour bandh called by the Congress in Odisha today led to another flare-up in the state with party workers burning a bus in Bhubaneswar. In Cuttack, police and the Congress workers clashed resulting in a lathicharge. Last Thursday, several Congress workers and around 60 policemen were injured during a rally outside the Odisha Assembly.

The police has already arrested more than 70 Congress leaders and workers for blocking roads. A large number of preventive arrests have also been made.

Heavy security has been deployed through the state today; 51 platoons in Bhubaneswar and 25 have been put in place in Cuttack.

Train services across the state also have been paralysed due to the bandh called by the Congress to protest last week's police crackdown on its party workers during the rally in Bhubaneswar. More than a dozen trains were stopped at several railway stations including Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Khurda Road, Berhampur and Sambalpur as bandh supporters staged dharna on the tracks, a spokesman of East Coast Railway (ECoR) said.

The bandh has also hit public transport and commercial establishments. Vehicular movement virtually came to a grinding halt in many parts of the state as passenger buses, trucks and auto-rickshaw remained off the roads, police sources said.

A large number of passengers were seen stranded at railway stations and bus stands at many places, while roads wore a deserted look during the one-day shut-down. City bus services in many places like Bhubaneswar, Cuttack and Puri were suspended. Shops, business establishments and commercial centres downed their shutter in major areas including Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Berhampur, Balasore, Sambalpur, Bolangir, Rourkela, Baripada, Bhadrak and Angul, sources said. Schools, colleges and other educational institutions remained shut in most areas.

"We appeal to the people in Odisha to make the bandh successful tomorrow and observe the Odisha bandh peacefully without any violence. The police may try to instigate to resort to violence, we appeal everybody not to be instigated," senior Congress leader Narasimha Mishra had said yesterday.

Senior leaders from the Congress and the police have blamed each other for the clashes outside the state assembly. The Bhubaneswar Police last week filed criminal conspiracy cases against leaders Jagdish Tytler and Niranjan Patnaik while the Congress has filed a counter case against the state government and the police. The First Information Report or FIR filed by the Congress blames them for alleged "brutalities" and "excesses" against party workers.

The clashes broke out when close to 25,000 Congress workers, reportedly led by Mr Tytler, were protesting outside the assembly to demand the resignation of Chief Minister Navin Patnaik for what they allege is his involvement in the coal block allocation scam.

Police had put prohibitory orders in the area, which the Congress workers defied. As some of them broke through one of the barricades to storm the assembly, the cops resorted to tear gas to control the situation.

While the Bhubaneswar Police says protesters threw stones at policemen first, the party alleges that the cops violated the law by hitting people on their heads. The Congress also insists that not all the thousands present during the protests were Congressmen.

Several policemen including a 39-year-old woman cop, Pramila Padhi, were injured in the clashes. Local TV channels showed footage of protesters thrashing Ms Padhi with bamboo sticks as she lay on the ground trying to protect herself.

Ms Padhi has alleged that she was attacked after Mr Tytler called for barricades to be broken. "I was trying to persuade people to stay calm when 30 to 40 of them caught hold of me, dragged me along and even molested me. They kicked and beat me up. They attacked me as soon as Jagdish Tytler called on party workers to break the barricades," the woman cop has told the Press Trust of India.

The Congress has apologised for the assault on Ms Padhi, but insisted that the crowd present outside the Assembly on Thursday included "unemployed youth, agitating teachers and auto-rickshaw drivers unhappy with new rules."

"We are sorry that the woman cop got injured," Mr Tytler said, but quickly added that "there are two sides to the story. Our people have also been injured. The cops attacked us first. "

Alleging that the police attacked party workers first, Congress MLA Bhupinder Singh said, " They should have targeted only those who jumped over the barricade instead of launching attacks on the stage erected for the rally."

But Bhubaneswar Police Commissioner Sunil Roy said television footage clearly shows that the protesters threw stones at policemen around the time the last speeches were delivered by Congress leaders. The police, he said, used utmost restraint in using water canons and tear gas shells to disperse the crowd. But the mob kept coming back to attack the policemen and it was then that they decided to chase them away, he said. Mr Roy said that the Congress leaders who had organised the rally would be taken to task for violating the conditions of the licence granted to them to hold a "peaceful rally and demonstration".

(With inputs from PTI)

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