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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Assam riots protesters go on rampage, hold city hostage 2 Killed | 111 Vehicles Smashed | Road, Rail Traffic Held Up For Hours

Mumbai: Two persons died and 53 people, 45 of them policemen, were injured as south Mumbai witnessed unbridled mob vandalism for about two hours after a section of participants in a rally by Muslim organisations went berserk. The mob torched one police van and one television channel's vehicle besides damaging six other police vehicles, 49 BEST buses, a couple of other outdoor broadcasting vans and numerous privately owned vehicles. 

    The police opened fire after all other means to control the violence, including a lathi-charge and tear-gassing, failed. One of the casualties had suffered bullet injuries, and the other was crushed to death. Police commissioner Arup Patnaik said the cops had to fire five rounds to rein in the mob. 
    Before that, however, two of the island city's arterial roads, D 

N Road and Mahapalika Marg, witnessed mob violence of a scale not seen in recent memory. Thousands from the rally, organised to focus attention on the violence against Muslims in Assam and Myanmar, spilled on to the streets, torching and damaging whatever they managed to lay their hands on. Several newspersons, including photographers Shriram Vernekar and Prashant Nakwe from The Times of India, were beaten up and Vernekar's camera was broken. Cops were singled out for specially violent treatment. 

Knew about protest scale, say CM, RR 
CM Prithviraj Chavan said a crime branch probe has been ordered into Saturday's violence. Home minister RR Patil added that a separate magisterial probe has been ordered into the police firing. Cryptically, both admitted to have received prior information about the scale of the protests. "This is the reason there was heavy police bandobast," Chavan said. P 2 
An Evening of Anarchy 
1pm: Rally to protest killing of Muslims in Myanmar and Assam begins at Azad Maidan. About 50,000 people turn up at the venue while the organizers had only expected 1,500 to arrive. (But the government later said there were 12,000 people at the rally) 
3.15pm: A huge group from Nehru Nagar, Kurla, arrives towards the end of the rally and is unable to enter the packed venue. Infuriated, members turn on an OB van parked nearby. They break open its door, light a piece of cloth after dipping it in the fuel tank of a bike and set it afire, setting off a spiral of unbridled vandalism 
BEST buses 


After over 2 hours of violence... 
Dead: 2 Mohammad Umar, 22, and Altaf Sheikh, 18, one a resident of Bandra east, the other from Kurla. Umar died of a bullet injury, Sheikh died in a stampede 

Injured: 54 
(Including 45 policemen) 
Detained: 20 
Probe: The CM has asked the crime branch to probe 

Massive disruption in train, road traffic 
Harbour line trains were suspended between CST and Wadala for an hour, triggering massive delays through the evening. Over 45 services were cancelled. On the Main line too, 38 services could not be operated and trains ran late during the evening peak hours. Vehicular traffic came to a standstill in south Mumbai for several hours. Mahapalika Marg and D N Road were kept shut, causing traffic to back up till central Mumbai. The situation on the roads returned to normal by 7pm 
Violence began with Nehru Nagar groupAsenior officer said the 
probe was zeroing in on a group that came from Neh
ru Nagar. "This group could not enter Azad Maidan, and there were reports that it was the first flashpoint," the officer told TOI. 
    The violence and wanton destruction of buses and other vehicles went on for about an hour before the police decided they had had enough. A lathi charge and tear-gassing were followed by firing as cops chased back the crowd. A section fled towards Crawford Market, damaging more buses on the way, and some ran into CST. Train services had to be halted for some time as frightened commuters found themselves between the police and the mob. Two persons, 22-year-old Mohammad Umar and 18-year-old Altaf Sheikh (one from Bandra and the other from Kurla), died while another person was admitted to St George's Hospital with serious bullet injuries. "Seven police personnel and 
one civilian have received grievous head injuries and are critical," said Dr T P Lahane, head of the JJ Group of Hospitals. 
    Traffic constable Shivram Salve was on bandobast duty and told TOI about how the force suddenly came under a hail of stones. "Most of my colleagues suffered head injuries. We were left shell-shocked," he added. Azad Maidan snacks stall owner Shantaram Bhanu said, "No one was inside. It all happened without any provocation," he said. 
    Police have slapped sections relating to rioting, unlawful assembly and damaging public property on unnamed rioters. The administration sounded an alert in Mumbai as well as sensitive pockets in neighbouring regions like Thane and Bhiwandi. 
The police have been asked to stay on maximum alert on Sunday when the kin of the dead may be asked to take the two bodies. 
    Several failings led to the conflagration. The organisers, Raza Academy, sought permission for arally by 1,500 people but, according to some estimates, about 50,000 people turned up. Most of the protesters could not enter the venue and things worsened when the public address system failed. Officials later said the organisers of the rally had absolutely no control over the crowd and did not have any idea of the number of people who ultimately turned up. 
    But some former top cops also blamed the police for their intelligence failure in estimating the number of people and the intensity of the emotions on display. One of the injured policemen told TOI from his hospital bed that the mob was "uncontrollable" and that he and his colleagues were severely outnumbered. Officials later said that around 800 personnel were there to tackle the mob 
but "it was clearly not enough for amob of that size and ferocity". 
    Officials also admitted that some senior officers had received alerts about possible violence but the alert was not taken seriously. The Special Branch emphasised the possibility of trouble, an official said. Joint commissioner of police (crime) Himanshu Roy said officials were collecting evidence and it was too early to comment on these issues. 
    At the meet, there was enough to raise passions. Many speakers spoke of teaching the Congress a lesson for not doing enough to save Muslims in Assami. A couple of men from Burma carried kids on their shoulders with placards saying 'Don't kill us'. 
    (Inputs from Pratibha Masand, S Ahmed Ali, Sandeep Ashar & Pradeep Gupta)

JUST NOT DONE: Saturday's protest over the killing of Muslims in Assam and Myanmar turned violent towards the end, leaving two people dead, several injured and many vehicles torched


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