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Tragedy hits dignity drive
Scribe dies in Manipur firing

Imphal, Dec. 23: A freelance video journalist was killed in police firing as clashes between police and protesters continued to rage on Imphal streets on the second day of an indefinite strike across the state over the alleged molestation of actress Momoco.

The curfew, which was imposed yesterday from 7pm to 6am today in Imphal East and Imphal West districts, was extended to 6am tomorrow following the death of the journalist.

Eyewitnesses said police fired at a group of violent protesters who had torched a truck at Sinam Leikai in Imphal West around 1pm.

A bullet hit Th. Dwijamani alias Nanao, 32, on the chest and he was rushed to the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences, where doctors declared him dead.

Dwijamani, a resident of Imphal West, was covering the event when he was hit. He was the former cameraman of a Guwahati-based news channel. According to eyewitnesses, the victim had a card issued by an Imphal-based news production company, which stated he was a stringer of Doordarshan Kendra, Guwahati.

Dwijamani was the youngest of seven siblings and survived by his wife, a two-year-old son and a six-month-old girl.

The video footage the victim took showed a truck belonging to Lamphel police station being attacked with stones by protesters, with civilians alighting from the truck and fleeing. The truck was set on fire later on. The video also showed four to five policemen firing from a distance, with sounds of four to five shots heard.

The death of the journalist sparked a storm of protest with the journalist community led by the All Manipur Working Journalists Union violating the curfew and marching from Manipur Press Club to the chief minister’s office to lodge a complaint.

Chief minister Ibobi Singh who returned from New Delhi today after meeting Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde assured the scribes that an inquiry would be ordered into the firing. He said the policemen involved in the incident would be suspended immediately and that financial help would be extended to the family of the victim.

Breaking its silence on the alleged molestation of Momoco by its cadre, Living Stone, the NSCN (I-M) today said it is a matter of regret that a small incident had been blown out of proportion.

Living Stone allegedly molested Momoco and fired at two male co-actors when they intervened at a concert in Chandel last Tuesday evening.

The outfit expressed concern over “certain forces” trying to sensationalise the incident and giving it a communal colour. “The actual incident allegedly started when actress Momoco made a provocative gesture against Nagas, which led Living Stone to slap her in a fit of anger. Nevertheless, we are not taking the matter lightly and if Living Stone is found guilty of the crime, he would be punished according to the law,” the statement said.

“It is however, bewildering to observe that the highly motivated show of protest giving communal colour to the incident. It is also shameless for the Manipur government to have taken up the issue in the state Assembly simply to magnify the matter,” it said.

The statement also said the public in Chandel had been victimised with “mental torture and other inconveniences during the Christmas season” and pointing out that “such a hue and cry over such a small incident both by the Meiteis and the government is absolutely unwarranted”.

“The area commander of Khurmi region also expressed regret over the incident. He, however, has requested our top leaders to inquire into the incident on an urgent basis to pinpoint the culprit,” the statement added.

In a fresh development, the United Naga Council today accused the people of attacking Nagas in the valley and damaging their properties taking advantage of the Chandel incident and cautioned that unless the “attacks” were stopped, the council would have no option but to adopt its own course of action.

Street arson continued today with protesters burning vehicles during the strike called by the Film Forum Manipur and Manipur Shumang Leela Council since Friday midnight, demanding the arrest of Living Stone.

There were clashes between the police and protesters in various parts of the two districts forcing the police to use rubber bullets and tear gas shells. There were also reports of protesters damaging and burning vehicles at various places.

As the situation worsened, the Okram Ibobi Singh government started evacuating stranded settlers from the valley to their respective hill districts with security escort. Thousands of people, who had come to Imphal for festive shopping, got stranded here following the strike.

The Naga People’s Organisation, Senapati District Women’s Association and Senapati District Students’ Association condemned the Chandel incident but appealed to the Shumang Leela council and film forum to relax the strike in view of the festive season.

In a joint statement today, the group urged the strike sponsors not to blow the Chandel incident out of proportion. It also urged the state government to contain the present situation.

State BJP president Th. Chaoba Singh and Imphal-based Information Centre for Hill Areas also appealed for relaxation of the strike.

Responding to the appeals of the groups, the Shumang Leela council and film forum have relaxed the strike from midnight tonight to the midnight of December 26.

Additional reporting by our Kohima correspondent