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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Mayhem In South Mumbai Organizers, police expected 1,000 protestors, 50,000 came

Azad Maidan Protestors Turn Rioters; Experts Dub Administration's Response Inadequate

    Violence during Saturday's protest meeting at Azad Maidan appeared to catch its organizers and even the small posse of policemen present completely off-guard. None expected a crowd of 50,000 supporters to show up. A dozen Sunni Muslim organizations, which had given a call for a march to the maidan, had made arrangements for about a 1,000 supporters. But as the crowds swelled, the maidan's eastern part opposite the BMC headquarters, where the stage had been erected, turned out to be too small to accommodate the protestors. They began to spill over on the roads. 
    "We had expected a crowd of 1,000 to 1,500. We don't know how so many people converged," said Ahmed Raza, one of the organizers. Saeed Noorie of Raza Academy said he too was shocked. "Just 1,500 chairs had been ordered," he said. 
    Shamsher Khan Pathan, a retired assistant commissioner of police and leader of Awami Vikas Party, though, said he had informed a senior police officer on Friday that the rally would attract at least 40,000 supporters. "The message (for the rally) went out through SMSes and I knew there would be a huge crowd. The police did not deploy adequate personnel." 
    The meeting began around 1pm. Speakers, comprising sen
ior clerics and activists, fulminated against the Congress-led Assam government and the Centre for alleged failure to stop killings of Muslims in Assam. 
    "The crowd had become restive. We don't know who began fights with the cops. We were appealing to people not to attack the media or the police," said Amir Ansari who was on stage when trouble began. 
    Around 3pm, Maulana Moin Ashraf, head of Madrassa Ashrafia Qadriya at Grant Road, led dua, seeking Allah's blessings for the victims in Assam and Myanmar. He even prayed for peace in India. Subsequently, additional commissioner of police Krishna Prasad addressed the crowd, quoting a Quranic verse about Ramzan's piety and appealed for a peaceful protest. But by then, it was too late. 

Spiral To Violence 
1pm | A rally called by Sunni Muslim organizations to protest the killings of Muslims in Assam and Myanmar, started at Azad Maidan. The organisers had reportedly obtained permission for 1,500 people but police estimates say around 50,000 turned up 
3pm | The leaders finished their speeches and a prayer for peace was said as the rally was winding up 
Between 3.15-4pm | A huge crowd, which arrived from Nehru Nagar towards the end of the rally, finding no way to enter, turned their attention to an OB van parked nearby. They broke its door, took a piece of cloth from the van, dipped it in a parked motorcycle's fuel tank and used it to set fire to the OB van and other vehicles 
    A crowd joined the group on Mahapalika Marg, some threw chappals and stones at cops on bandobast at the rally. Police vehicles parked on the road were also vandalized 
    Personnel from the Rapid Action Force, Local Arms department and South region watched the riots for 30 minutes before senior officials 
reached the spot. Several cops were injured by the stone pelting. With the situation spiraling out of control, police finally resorted to a lathi charge, shot tear gas shells and fired a few rounds 
4pm | Police commissioner Arup Patnaik reached Azad Maidan, manoeuvered through the furious mob to climb the dais and request the maulana to make announcements and bring the mob under control. Following the maulana's announcement, the mob gradually dispersed 
5.03pm | The situation was finally brought under control. Bikes belonging to members of the mob were seized by cops and towed away 

An Unequal Face-Off 
The Crowd | 50,000 (official estimates said 12,000) 
Cops deployed | Approx 800 (including SRPF, riot control police, Vajra combat vans, cops from local police stations, special branch, crime branch and senior IPS officers) 
The Aftermath 
Detained | 20 Dead | 2 (Mohammad Umar, 22, and Altaf Sheikh, 18) Injured | 53 (including 45 policemen) GT Hospital | 27 St George Hospital | 20 JJ Hospital | 5 Bombay Hospital | 1 
Damages & Disruptions 
    Damaged BEST buses | 49 
    Services stopped for two-and-ahalf hours 
on routes covering Colaba, Backbay and Sion 
Private vehicles damaged | About 50 (3 OB vans, 5 motorcycles and several taxis were torched) 
Police vehicles damaged | Around 12 (3 were torched) 
CR Mainline trains cancelled | 38 Harbour trains cancelled | 45 
Crime branch to probe incident 
Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said a crime branch probe has been ordered into why the protest at Azad Maidan turned violent. "The crime branch has also been asked to probe if it was pre-planned," Chavan said. Patil said it will also be probed if provocative speeches at the event resulted in the violence. Defending police action, Chavan said, "The fact that 45 of the 54 injured are policemen, displays the restraint shown by police." Asked about participation of a controversial retired cop in the protest, Patil said it was being looked into. The government will interact with community leaders to ensure tension does not escalate. | TNN


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