Many injured as Left rally turns violent in Kolkata.
Several policemen and Left protesters were injured yesterday when security forces used tear gas and baton charges on thousands of belligerent activists who broke barricades in Kolkata and neighbouring Howrah during a protest march to the secretariat. Several areas in Kolkata and Howrah district turned into battlefields as the Left activists used sticks and bamboo poles to break barricades and rained bricks and stones on police and the Rapid Action Force deployed in strength to quell the "March to Nabanna" organised by 11 peasant bodies affiliated to the Left parties. The agitation was to press for their 18-point charter of demand including measures to stop farmers' distress and rising unemployment in West Bengal. While Nabanna was virtually converted into a fortress with all entry points blocked and barricaded, and gates closed, sand bunkers, barricades and guard walls were put up on the approach roads, many of which were closed to traffic. However, there was high drama even before the scheduled start of the march, as a number of Left Front lawmakers including legislature party leader Sujan Chakraborty reached Nabanna around noon and shouted slogans at its gate, demanding they be allowed in. But they were detained and taken to the Shibpur police station. "Twenty of our MLAs reached the gate of Nabanna to protest against the issues of unemployment, farmers' distress and other issues. But the police did not let us in. They forcefully stopped us and later put us in police vans. They are not disclosing whether we are in police custody or not," Chakraborty said. "The chief minister has fled from the city. Is she not bothered about the plight of the farmers here? She has turned the state into a prison," he added. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is in Birbhum district to attend an administrative meeting. At 1pm, the Left workers from near and far flung districts as also the city gathered in large numbers at five points here and in Howrah and tried to march to the state secretariat, but came up against stiff resistance from the heavily-armed police. The protesters sat on the road and broke the barriers to continue the march. Barricades came down at Mayo Road and Shibpur and other points, as some of the protesters were seen battling police and countering batons with stones and bricks. Police, using water cannons and lobbing tear gas shells, managed to temporarily disperse the Left workers, but they soon regrouped and confronted police again, shouting "Inquilab Zindabad" and holding aloft the red flags. Some of them even snatched the sticks from baton charging policemen, and again dismantled barricades. The areas, particularly Mayo Road, resembled war zones, with both protesters and the police sustaining injuries, and blood oozed from their wounds. The entire Left leadership - including CPM politburo members Mohamed Salim, Surjya Kanta Mishra and Biman Bose - hit the roads to take part in the march. Terming the police as "hooligans in uniform", Salim claimed the Mamata government has turned West Bengal into a police state where people's right to have a dialogue or protest has been curbed. "Some police officers are ransacking the vehicles of our activists who participated in today's rally. Are they police or hooligans in uniform?" he asked. Bose condemned the arrest of Left Front lawmakers and demanded their "unconditional release" and accused police of committing "excesses" to thwart the march. Before the start of the rally, Mishra warned the administration if the marchers' were not allowed to proceed. "We will remain on the streets in protest. We will resist". The Left Front said it would observe a state-wide condemnation day today. "We strongly condemn the police provocation and attack on our party workers who took part in today's peaceful rally. Many of them got severely injured as police resorted to baton and tear gas shelling mercilessly," Bose said. "The 'March to Nabanna' was supposed to a peaceful rally where we would try to penetrate police barricade, and if we were stopped, we would hold a sit-in protest. The situation went out of hand due to police provocation." Bose alleged that even reporters and photographers of the print and electronic media were not spared by the security personnel.
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