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3 die as cops, protesters clash again

- Gogoi institutes judicial inquiry; AGP calls 12-hour Assam bandh as CMs prepare for talks today

Golaghat, Aug. 20: Police and protesters clashed for the second consecutive day in Assam’s Golaghat district today, leaving three persons, including a Class IX student, dead and several injured.

Hours later, Union home minister Rajnath Singh called up chief minister Tarun Gogoi to take stock of the situation. He asked Gogoi and Nagaland chief minister T.R. Zeliang to “sit across the table” and resolve the issue. The chief ministers are expected to make a joint statement calling for peace on the boundary after a meeting with Union minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju in Guwahati tomorrow.

After today’s clash, the Golaghat administration clamped indefinite curfew in the district headquarters Golaghat and in the Rangajan area, which resembled a battle zone this morning. The army was called out and it conducted a flag march.

Trouble began around 10.30am, when protesters, who had been dispersed by the police twice yesterday before they gathered again at Rangajan last evening, set ablaze three trucks in the area and torched a vehicle carrying police personnel at Moinapara, 4km from Rangajan. The policemen had to leave their vehicle and flee the spot.

The protesters took control of the entire Rangajan area and about 3,000 of them, armed with bows and arrows, sticks and machetes, started marching towards Golaghat town, 8km from Rangajan.

Police personnel, led by deputy inspector-general of police (central zone) Pradip Saloi and superintendent of police Shiladitya Chetia, tried to check the mob at Arengapara Chariali, the entry point of the town, by firing rubber bullets and tear gas shells but could not control the furious mob, which started pelting stones and shooting arrows at the police. As the mob proceeded towards the town aggressively, the police opened fire with AK series and INSAS rifles, leaving three protesters dead.

One of the deceased has been identified as Raju Rajak, a Class IX student of Murfuloni area. The other two are yet to be identified.

While two protesters died on the spot, 14 sustained bullet injuries, eight of them critically. The injured were taken to Golaghat civil hospital where the critically injured were referred to Jorhat Medical College Hospital. One of them died later.

Several police personnel were also injured in the attack by protesters, including officer-in-charge of Golaghat police station Hiranya Kumar Dohutia, assistant sub-inspector of police Naba Kumar Deka and constable Ananda Gogoi.

During the firing that continued for nearly 15 minutes around 2pm, bullets hit the house of a local resident, Abdul Matlib.

Nearly an hour after the firing, senior Assam police officials, including two additional directors-general of police, A.P. Raut and R.M. Singh, and deputy inspector-general (border) Anurag Agarwal visited the area. They, however, did not speak to reporters.

Gogoi said his government would institute a judicial inquiry by a retired judge of Gauhati High Court into the police firing to arrive at the truth. He said the Nagaland government had informed him that 15 people had been arrested by the police there while the CRPF had apprehended nine persons in connection with the attack on the villagers by alleged Naga militants since August 12, which had led to protests and an indefinite economic blockade on NH 39 in Golaghat district.

Gogoi, however, faced sharp criticism from Opposition AGP and BJP, which blamed the state government for the flare-up in Golaghat.

The AGP today called a 12-hour Assam bandh from 5am tomorrow.

Party president Atul Bora said here that the Gogoi government had failed to provide security to people living along the border and had used police force to attack those who had staged protests against the government’s failure.

The Sanmilito Jonogosthiyo Oikyo Moncho, an umbrella body of 21 non-Bodo organisations, has supported the bandh.

BJP members, led by Jorhat Lok Sabha MP Kamakhya Prasad Tasa, staged a protest in front of the Jorhat deputy commissioner’s office and demanded resignation of Gogoi for “police atrocity” on protesters in Golaghat.

KMSS members, led by its president Akhil Gogoi, tried to break into the Assam Assembly compound in Guwahati in protest against the Golaghat incident but were stopped by the police and CRPF personnel deployed there.

As the police came in the line of fire from several quarters, the Assam police association held the state government responsible for the flare-up.

It said the district administration had failed to convince the protesters through talks following which the police had to intervene to restore normalcy.