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Violence erupts over Kerala probe call

Thiruvananthapuram, March 17: As many as 10 districts in Kerala erupted in violence today as police and supporters of the CPM-led Left Democratic Front clashed over demands for an inquiry into the Muthanga sanctuary incident.

Hundreds of LDF workers, including several CPM central committee members and MPs, and several policemen were injured.

The police fired air pellets and teargas shells and lathicharged to control the Opposition workers. More than 20 government vehicles were set on fire across the state.

The LDF workers marched to all district collectorates in the state to press their demand for a judicial inquiry into the Muthanga wildlife sanctuary clashes which occurred in the third week of February between landless tribals and law enforcement agencies. The police action to clear the sanctuary of landless tribals, who had occupied it, had claimed several casualties. Over 200 tribals are still missing in the forests of Wayanad district.

The Opposition has been demanding the inquiry for the past one month and LDF legislators have been on an indefinite fast before the Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram for 24 days.

Violence first erupted today in the north Kerala town of Kannur, where CPM central committee member P. Karunakaran was leading a demonstration.

The protestors tried to barge into the district collectorate, sparking violence. Several rounds of bullets were fired in the air to disperse the mob. CPM MP T. Govindan was injured.

Clashes in the districts of Ernakulam, Palakkad, Kollam, Thiruvananthapuram, Malappuram, Kottayam and Kozhikode followed.

There were complaints that the police in some districts targeted journalists and destroyed costly equipment such as cameras.

In Palakkad, CPM leaders, including former finance minister and central committee member T. Sivadasa Menon and MPs N. N. Krishna Das and Ajay Kumar, suffered head injuries in the police charge.

Kerala Film Development Corporation chairperson P. V. Gangadharan was injured in Kozhikode when demonstrators stoned his car.

There are indications now that the confrontation between the government and the Opposition over the Muthanga incident will intensify in the coming days. The LDF has already called a hartal tomorrow to protest against today’s police action.

Chief minister A. K. Antony made it clear that violence would not make the government change its stance. He reiterated in the Assembly that the state would not institute a judicial inquiry into the Muthanga incident as the National Human Rights Commission was already investigating.

The Opposition interrupted the proceedings in the Assembly several times to raise today’s police action against demonstrators. Around noon, the House was adjourned for the day.

Union forest minister Jual Oram, on a Kerala visit, has also demanded the state conduct a judicial inquiry. He said the state could not hide behind the claim that the rights panel was already making inquiries.

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