Saturday, September 29, 2007

SILIGURI EXPLODES - Rumours fuel riot on streets

Siliguri,Sept. 28: A Delhi radio jockey’s alleged taunts at Indian Idol 3 winner Prashant Tamang became the trigger for street riots in an ethnically divided Siliguri today, prompting police firing, army intervention and an indefinite curfew.
A local mob’s attacks on the mainly Nepalese supporters of Tamang and then the police left at least 50 people injured, including two men hit by police bullets. The army and the BSF were patrolling the town tonight.
Some 5,000 people, including 800 schoolchildren, were marching against RJ Nitin’s alleged derogatory remarks about Tamang’s Nepalese origins when they were stoned, chased and besieged around 11.35am after rumours accused them of hooliganism near a hospital.
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About 800 of the protesters who ran into the compounds of a court and the district telecom office were trapped inside for eight hours before the army rescued them at 7.45pm.
“There were more than 50 schoolchildren with us. They had nothing to eat through the day,” said marcher Avinash Tamang.
Outside, the mob stood guard, braving repeated baton-charges and tear-gassing by police and ignoring back-to-back proclamations of Section 144 by the district and subdivision administrations.
The rumours spread across the town prompting crowds elsewhere to torch a Tata Sumo with a Sikkim number plate at Collegepara and a police vehicle at Hospital More in the afternoon. Outside the court, the first mob burnt a motorbike.
The police, who had driven four buses and three vans inside the court compound abandoned plans to rescue the rallyists and called for BSF and army help.
The BSF could do little till the army arrived from Sukna at 7pm. Forty-five minutes later, the first batch of besieged rallyists was taken out in three police buses, three army trucks and two police vans, escorted by troops. The second batch came out at 8.30pm in five vans.
Indian Idol, a TV music talent hunt decided by voting via text messaging and phone calls, had stoked regional sentiments but failed to divide Siliguri. Both Nepalese and non-Nepalese had voted for Tamang, 24.
The marchers had set out from Darjeeling More towards the subdivisional office 2km away to hand over a written demand for an apology from the FM channel.
“I urge you all to maintain calm, otherwise I may not be able to concentrate in my career,” Tamang said in a TV appeal in Bengali and Nepali.
The rumours that sparked the rioting could not be verified but it’s possible that a minor quarrel had taken place between some of the marchers and a patient’s relatives. In the first few minutes of the clashes, the rallyists, too, had vandalised about 50 makeshift stalls outside the courthouse.
The police fired “seven rounds” around 4.30pm. One bullet struck Biswajit Das, a shopper from Jalpaiguri district, in the back while a second lodged in trader Acchalal Prasad’s right thigh.