| A policeman trains a teargas gun on a motorcyclist in Park Circus. Picture by Aranya Sen
Several pockets of the city spent Wednesday under siege as a small show of protest exploded into an alarming show of strength.
Thousands of rioters played a cat-and-mouse game with hundreds of policemen — and later some armymen — as bottles and bricks outfought lathis and teargas shells for over 10 hours.
The epicentre of the violence was Ripon Street, where it all began with a roadblock at 9.40am. A routine lathicharge to disperse protesters soon sparked a conflagration.
The protesters split into two groups and ran into Ripon Street and Banshi Dutta Road. There, they turned on the cops.
As word spread — mostly over mobile phones — that police had attacked a “peaceful demonstration”, the chakka jam programme turned violent in Park Circus, then Padmapukur on CIT Road, Bridge No. 4 and Elliot Road.
Then began a long battle between rioters and policemen — one step forward for one, two steps back for the other, soft-drink bottles and tubelights hurled by one, teargas shells launched by the other — with the Ripon Street-AJC Bose Road belt emerging as the capital of chaos.
“The narrow lanes in the area were filled with rioters armed with bricks and bottles, some of whom took up position on rooftops,” said Jawed Shamim, the deputy commissioner of police (south), who suffered injuries on his right hand.
The police and the rapid action force (RAF) had to beat a retreat in the face of a sustained missile attack as the mob hurled whatever it could lay its hands on.
“There was nothing we could do except fire teargas shells, as we were under instructions not to open fire,” said a cop, after running for cover.
The restraint shown by the police allowed the rioters a free hand. “The mobs were luring us into narrow lanes and then attacking us. Had we opened fire, there would have been a bloodbath,” said an officer.
Things took another violent turn in the afternoon when a rumour of “police firing” spread like wildfire.
A fresh onslaught was launched on the men in uniform as every lane and bylane in the Ripon Street area turned into a war zone.
This went on till the army flag march. But the respite was brief — as soon as the armymen moved out of Ripon Street, a low-intensity battle with the police was renewed.
Ripon Street-AJC Bose Road apart, the EM Bypass-Park Circus connector was the worst hit. A mob on the rampage set six cars, a lorry, a state bus and a police kiosk on fire, till the army intervened. Bridge No. 4 and Park Circus railway station were taken over by the rioters.
As thick black smoke billowed from the burning cars, pedestrians were instructed to hold their hands high above their heads as they walked down the thoroughfare.
A voice on a microphone rose above the cloud of smoke: “Let us maintain peace and stay calm now. Taslima Nasreen has got our message, so she will have to leave the city.”
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