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'Black Day' in Bengal as police gun down 14 in Nandigram

At least 14 people were killed and 39 injured in Nandigram in West Bengal Wednesday as police opened fire to quell mobs and retake the area they lost control of in January after unrest over acquisition of farmland for industry. A minister called it a 'Black Day' for West Bengal.

In a day of violence not seen since the Left Front took power in the state three decades ago, the police resorted to firing as hundreds of furious villagers set upon the men in uniform determined to prevent their land from being seized.

In the event, it led to a near massacre, hugely embarrassing the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), which has claimed for years that it is opposed to using the police to quell what it calls 'people's struggles'.

'It is a black day in the 30-year rule of the Left in West Bengal. It is unfortunate and harrowing,' said West Bengal PWD Minister Kshiti Goswami, who represents the Left Front constituent Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP).

CPI-M leaders in Kolkata were on the defensive, while the government tried to put the blame for the violence on the main opposition Trinamool Congress, Maoist cadres and other unruly elements.

Hours after officials in Kolkata refused to admit if anyone was killed, West Bengal Chief Secretary Amit Kiran Deb told reporters that the police firing had claimed 11 lives. Another official said 14 people were killed.

Director General of Police Anup Bhusan Bhora put the number of injured at 39, including 14 policemen.

Bhora said 20 people were arrested during the operation, which triggered angry reactions all over West Bengal.

'We went there to only restore law and order. We had to resort to use of force 'only, and only and only' to defend ourselves,' Bhora said.

Left Front chairman Biman Bose earlier claimed that the 'maximum toll could be 10' and sought to defended the police action.

Nandigram is a sprawling Lok Sabha constituency some 150 km southwest of Kolkata where widespread protests in January against government attempts to take over farmland had left six people dead.

Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya had then declared that the government had no intention of setting up any industry in the area without consulting people.

But according to officials Nandigram was virtually taken over by 'anti-social elements', forcing hundreds of CPI-M supporters to flee the area. On Wednesday, the police were determined to retake control. This led to clashes.

Villagers, united under the banner of the Bhumi Uchched Pratirodh Committee (Committee to Prevent Farmland Acquisition), stopped the police at Bhangaberi in Nandigram, triggering a violent face-off.

The Trinamool Congress and the Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI), a Left party outside the ruling front, called for a 12-hour shutdown Thursday.

The Congress immediately extended support to the strike while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) called for a 24-hour shutdown the same day.

Even Left Front partners were shocked, realizing that West Bengal's infatuation over industrializing the state had led to the violent confrontation.

The police, which took control of Sonachura, a bastion of the protesters, admitted that the situation was explosive.

Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee, who left for Nandigram, was halted at Radharani in Midnapore while CPI-M men intercepted journalists at Chandipore, several kilometres away from Nandigram.

A correspondent and cameraman of Bengali channel Tara News went missing for some time while feeding news to the channel's Kolkata studio.

According to reports, police entered the disputed area - which had been a forbidden zone since January - from three sides, Chandipur, Tekhali bridge and the Bhangabera bridge encircling Nandigram.

Villagers gathered at several points to resist them. They had dug up roads and thrown logs to prevent the entry of police or other officials.

Thousands armed with bamboo sticks came out of their homes. While some shouted slogans, others read from holy books or sang devotional songs.

Some villagers alleged that the police had fired at a rally by women members of Bhumi Uchched Pratirodh Committee.

Police also lobbed tear gas and used batons against the protesters, who stoned the cops, injuring many of them.

Demanding Chief Minister Bhattacharya's resignation, Banerjee said: 'The CPI-M has unleashed a death procession. Women were brutalized. We suspect that several bodies were thrown in the rivers. What is Buddhadeb doing? Is it development?'

She also asked the government to defer the higher secondary examinations starting Friday by a day.

In the state assembly, Trinamool and Congress legislators walked out.

In a statement issued in New Delhi, the CPI-M Central Committee said: 'It is regrettable that lives have been lost in police firing. But the organised elements who utilized bombs and pipe guns on the police have to take the blame.'

On July 31 last year, the state government signed an agreement with Indonesia's Salim Group to implement developmental projects, including a chemical industrial estate, to be spread over 10,000 acres in a 50:50 joint venture.  India PR

posted by Bimal 15.3.07,


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