MUMBAI (Agencies) - At least two people were killed and another 46 injured on Saturday in south Mumbai when a rally to condemn deadly sectarian clashes in India’s northeast suddenly turned violent, authorities said.
Three broadcast vans belonging to local television channels were set ablaze and windscreens of some police vehicles and buses broken after they were pelted with bricks and stones, a police official in India’s financial capital said.
“Two deaths have been reported and 46 have been injured out of which 36 are policemen,” Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde told reporters.
The police used tear gas and bamboo sticks to disperse hundreds of people after the demonstration suddenly turned violent at Azad Maidan - a park near the landmark CST railway station - where rallies are often held. The demonstrators, wearing black bands, belonged to several Muslims groups, including Mumbai’s Raza Academy, an organisation promoting Islamic culture that had made a call to denounce recent ethnic clashes in India’s Assam state.
Last month, fighting erupted between indigenous Bodo tribes and Muslim settlers over long-running land disputes and immigration issues in the state bordering Bangladesh.
At least 77 people have died in the clashes, Home Minister Shinde told parliament earlier in the week, and some 400,000 have fled their homes and are living in crowded camps in the northeast. The Mumbai rally “was peaceful and it suddenly turned unruly. It is unclear what sparked the violence”, the city police official, asking not to be unnamed, told AFP. “The situation is now under control,” said Mumbai police spokesman Nisar Tamboli, adding that the area had been cordoned off, with security beefed up across the city to prevent violence from spreading. “An alert has been sounded across the city. Whether the violence was a premeditated act or not will be known after investigations,” Mumbai’s police chief Arup Patnaik, who visited the spot, told the Press Trust of India. Meanwhile, Raza Academy has distanced itself from the violence which briefly disrupted local train services.
“While we were protesting, some people got aggressive and started behaving violently,” Mohammed Saeed, general secretary of the academy, told PTI.
“We never encourage violence and strongly condemn such acts.” Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said he had appealed for peace in the state of Maharashtra of which Mumbai is the capital. Maharashtra Government has directed the Crime Branch to probe the violence which erupted in Mumbai today, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan has said.
“The Crime Branch will probe whose hand was behind the violence. It will also probe how the protest turned so violent,” Chavan said in a statement tonight.
A high alert has been sounded all over the state, he said, adding Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Rapid Action Force (RAF) and State Reserve Police (SRP) personnel have been requisitioned. “The government has taken a serious note of the incident,” Chavan said, adding the situation was now under control. He said the miscreants began damaging public property soon after the protest rally began at Azad Maidan. “Altogether 45 police personnel and 10 others have been injured. They are undergoing treatment in city hospitals,” he added.
Home Minister R R Patil who rushed to Mumbai tonight said all efforts would be made to nab those behind the incident.
Meanwhile, the ‘Patrakar Halla Virodhi Samiti’ has condemned the violence and sought compensation for the media equipment damaged in the violence.
The ‘TV Journalists Association’ flayed the violence saying attack on journalists crew, OB Vans and units is unacceptable.
Leader of Opposition in Maharashtra Legislative Council Vinod Tawde who visited the spot also condemned the violence