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Stubborn standoff in war zone

Cooch Behar, Sept. 21: An eerie calm hung over Bhetaguri less than 24 hours after the suburb was singed by violent clashes over Greater Cooch Behar.

Squatting on the road today were thousands of people taking part in an indefinite hunger strike under the banner of the Greater Cooch Behar People's Association.

A cautious district administration has kept an ambulance with doctors and nurses ready for any emergency. Fifteen people, who complained of dropping pulse rates and dizziness, were taken to the district hospital for treatment.

The association has set up plastic-sheet shelters for use during the several spells of heavy rain. People were also seen sitting under umbrellas.

Security at night is a major concern for police, and halogen lamps have been kept in place to illuminate the area. A tanker is also parked nearby to provide drinking water.

'We will not budge from here till a representative from the Union government meets us and gives the assurance that our demand will be met. Let the police fire on us' we will not move,' said association secretary Bangsibadan Barman at Bhetaguri, 17 km from here on the road to Dinhata.

Barman claimed that outsiders were responsible for yesterday's violence in which five persons, including the additional superintendent of police (Kalimpong), Mushtaq Ahmed, and two constables, were killed.

'There are people who want to disrupt our peaceful movement and discredit our members' they are the ones who created the problems,' he said. Two demonstrators also died when police opened fire on a mob trying to break through the barricades. Their identities are still unknown.

The association's cultural secretary, Ashutosh Barman, said: 'Let the CBI or a sitting judge of the Supreme Court probe the policemen's deaths.'

Additional director-general of police Sujit Sarkar, who arrived here from Calcutta this afternoon, said efforts were on to make the squatters disperse.

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