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Fast ends, ball in Delhi court

Bhetaguri (Cooch Behar), Sept. 23: Tired and fatigued after four days of fasting, Bangshibadan Barman today agreed to withdraw the hunger strike after a promise from the administration that their demand for a Greater Cooch Behar would be taken up with the Union home ministry.

But, warned Barman, the secretary of the Greater Cooch Behar People's Association, that they would be back on the protest path if a suitable reply did not come from Delhi.

Emerging from a meeting with district magistrate Ravi Inder Singh, Barman said: 'We will wait till October 15 when the district magistrate has convened a meeting to inform us about the Centre's reply. If the answer is in the negative, we will again sit on a hunger strike. But the district magistrate told me to look at things positively.'

Barman said he has requested Singh to ensure that workers of political parties do not disrupt their meetings. 'In the past we have been attacked and our loudspeakers and amplifiers damaged by CPM and Forward Bloc workers. The DM gave us his assurance on security,' he added.

Singh said he had told the association members that the people who had come from far-off places to participate in the hunger strike would be escorted back home.

Satisfied with the assurances, Barman and his supporters, who did not even have a drop of water to drink in the past four days, had some ORS and broke the fast. Later, around 7 pm, North Bengal State Transport Corporation buses left with people from places like Haldibari, Tufanganj, Balarampur and villages across Dinhata subdivision.

Barman needed some persuasion before he agreed to attend the meeting held in the panchayat office. Siliguri deputy superintendent of police Kalyan Bhattacharya, in town since Tuesday, had to make several attempts to convince him.

In Calcutta, senior officials at Writers' Buildings said they were in touch with the Union home ministry.

Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee spoke to home minister Shivraj Patil during the day and briefed him on the developments in Cooch Behar.

Home secretary Prasad Ranjan Roy said: 'We're sending their demands to the Centre along with our views on the matter. They (the protesters) have been asked to get in touch with the district magistrate within a month for feedback.'

The government, however, was not exactly in favour of the Centre playing the role of a mediator, he added.

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