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Strike hits Manipur festival

Imphal, Nov. 22: A 24-hour general strike called midnight last night by the Maoist Communist Party, Manipur against “giving away” Manipur’s land to Myanmar, hit the ongoing Sangai festival, which began yesterday.

The venue of the festival, Imphal, remained shut today and only a few visitors turned up on the second day.

The militant group, commonly known as Maoist, called the strike throughout the state as a “first step” to its “people’s resistance” for “indigenous land and people”.

The Maoist said the “movement” had been launched against the act of “giving away” Manipur’s land to My-anmar by the Centre against the wishes of the people.

The strike came at a time when Opposition parties, citizens’ groups and border settlers are accusing New Delhi of giving away the state’s land to the neighbouring country and demanding a resurvey of the international border.

The accusation and demand came after the Union home ministry through the Assam Rifles manning the border, started the construction of a 10km border fence at Moreh sector of the border in Chandel district.

The fence is being constructed much inside Manipur’s land and people suspected that the land beyond the border was being given away to Myanmar to appease them for good relations and to flush out Northeast militants hiding in the country.

The strike was called despite repeated appeals by the Okram Ibobi Singh government to not call any bandh during the festival or do anything that would disturb the festival. The Sangai festival is an annual one to promote tourism in the state.

People from Thailand, Myanmar and Bangladesh open stalls, sell various items, including garments and ornaments.

Festival organisers admitted that the strike dampened the festival spirit, as not many people turned up on the second day of the festival today.

All shops and business establishments remained shut in Imphal city. Inter-state and inter-district transport services were suspended. Schools, colleges and banks remained closed. Only a few private vehicles could be seen on the streets of Imphal.

The state government organised transportation for those willing to visit the festival. However, the buses did not bring many people, sources said.

All the roads leading to the main venue of the festival wore a deserted look throughout the day.

Artistes from various cultural institutions of the state presented dances and martial art forms in the evening at the Bheigyachandra Open Air Theatre, which is located next to the main venue of the festival at Hapta Kangjeibung here.

Cultural programmes draw large crowds every year but the strike prevented people from coming for today’s cultural events.

However, there was no report of any unwanted incident during the strike. Armed police personnel were deployed around the festival venue and at all the entry points of the roads leading to the venue.