The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bullets fly in strike backlash
Rapid Action Force personnel at Metiabruz. Picture by Aranya Sen

Calcutta, April 23: Defiant wholesale traders who opened their shops in the middle of the 10-day VAT shutdown clashed with protesters in Metiabruz today, sparking violence that took police almost five hours to control.

Trouble began this morning when a group of 25-30 bandh backers strode into the VIP Market complex on Akra road, raising slogans and demanding that the traders, mostly of garments, down shutters immediately. But the traders refused to bow to their terror tactics, saying they were not bothered with VAT.

The snubbed youths disappeared only to return half an hour later, bolstered by a contingent of about 500-600 supporters. They then went on the rampage, shoving and jostling traders and attacking market committee members, Babulal Laskar, owner of the market complex said.

By the time police arrived, the battle had spilled to the streets. Bricks were hurled at the window panes of shops and three vehicles set on fire. The mob also set upon the few policemen who had initially turned up, brickbatting them and forcing them to open two rounds of fire.

'Saturday being haat baar (market day), a large number of traders had turned up. Many rushed out as others downed shutters. With the situation turning violent, cops sought additional forces not only from Metiabruz but also from adjoining police stations.

'Senior officers, including additional police superintendent H.K. Kushumakar, soon arrived at the spot,' said Alamgir Fakir, the joint secretary of the Bangla Readymade Garments Chamber of Commerce.

Although it took the police almost five hours to control the mob, the traders in the thick of today's battle remained defiant. They said they were determined to come back tomorrow morning and open their shops as usual.

State finance minister Asim Dasgupta said the city and district police had been asked to take action against those who try to stop traders from opening their shops tomorrow. Rapid Action Force personnel have been posted in the area.

'Some 25-odd persons have been rounded up and we are keeping close watch. There will be heavy police deployment in the area tomorrow,' said Chanchal Dutta, the acting superintendent of police of South 24-Parganas.

Mahesh Singhania, the chairman of the All India Federation of West Bengal Trade Associations which is supporting the strike, said: 'The incident is unfortunate. The closure of shops should be voluntary and no force should be used to enforce the bandh.'

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