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Peaceful except for few skirmishes

Jan. 8: A lathi charge in Malda, a few incidents of ransacking and hundreds of arrests were all that were reported from the north Bengal districts during the 24-hour statewide strike called by the Congress, Trinamul Congress, SUCI and the BJP and supported by the Naxalite factions.

Since morning, supporters of opposition parties took out rallies and staged blockades on roads and in front of government offices, educational institutions, banks and business establishments. Unlike Siliguri, Cooch Behar and Jalpaiguri, where the strike was total and no major incident was reported, the Malda district collectorate witnessed a mayhem around 11 am when Congress, Trinamul, and BJP supporters stopped Chittaranjan Das, the district magistrate, from entering his office.

Das was kept waiting for more than 15 minutes before he managed to step inside.

Dilip Mondal, the Malda superintendent of police (SP), and Sujit Sarkar, the additional superintendent of police, arrived at the collectorate half-an-hour later.

“The SP suddenly ordered his men to disperse the crowd,” said Babla Sarkar, the district president of the Trinamul, from the hospital bed. “The policemen resorted to unprovoked lathi charge. Many of us have sustained injuries.” Both Sarkar and Ananta Chakrabarty, the president of the Trinamul Youth Congress, had to be hospitalised. Scribes, too, were not spared as policemen “failed to distinguish them in the crowd”. A cameraman of a private television channel was admitted to the district hospital.

The reporters later submitted memorandums to the police chief and the district magistrate, both of whom apologised.

Bandh supporters ransacked a couple of government buses at Mangalbari while puncturing the tyre of another at Sukanta More. A private vehicle at the Muchia area in Habibpur was also not spared. Seven persons were arrested from the district.

In North Dinajpur, 207 people were arrested. The protesters damaged two government buses and set fire on another at Vivekananda More in Kaliaganj. Similar was the situation in South Dinajpur, where the driver of a bus sustained injuries when the supporters hurled bricks at the NBSTC vehicle near Mangalpur. A local Trinamul leader of Patiram alleged that he was assaulted by CPM cadres and lodged a complaint with the police.

Rickshaws and buses plied and a number of schools and colleges and government offices remained open in Siliguri. Banks and commercial establishments, however, remained closed. Two-hundred-and-seventy-nine arrests were made in Darjeeling district though train services, Northeast Frontier Railway sources said, were normal.

In Cooch Behar, reports of minor clashes between the SUCI and CPM were reported at Dinhata and Changrabandha. Eight persons were injured, the police said.

The bandh, however, failed to make any impact on the hills and the tea estates. Apart from a fewer number of vehicles plying between the hills and the plains, nothing unusual was reported.

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