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A first: Itanagar strike turns violent

Itanagar, June 25: A 12-hour strike called by the All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU) that was expected to pass off peacefully, suddenly turned violent today when police lathicharged protesters, including the union’s president, Kamta Lapung.

The students’ union had called the 12-hour strike on June 20, 10 days after it had submitted an eight-point memorandum to the state government.

The union alleged that it had called the strike after its demands were not addressed by the government.

The union’s eight demands include increase and early release of students’ stipends, release of salaries of some section of government employees, a white paper on state finances, scheduling of “public darshan day” at the chief minister’s office, regular electricity and water supply in Itanagar and Naharlagun and proper road maintenance in the capital.

The state government yesterday reacted to the strike call with chief secretary Ramesh Negi declaring it illegal and asked all secretaries, commissioners and other heads of departments to defy it.

While strikes in the state are a regular phenomenon, today’s bandh was expected to pass off peacefully as they had in the past. Unlike strikes in other states, which are often marked by stray incidents of violence, strikes in Arunachal Pradesh are usually quiet affairs with the only visible indicators being closed business establishments, including banks, low traffic count and government officials skipping work.

The police took some members of the students’ union into preventive custody after a car was allegedly burnt down in the wee hours. Around 1pm today, Lapung and other members of the union were on their way to the police station to seek their release.

“We were attacked on our way to the police station. I was going to speak with the police to let my boys go as they are not criminals,” Lapung said, dressed in a white track suit, the top half of which was stained with blood.

Lapung claimed he was attacked by subdivisional police officer Bomge Kamduk and demanded his termination.

Not only did he refuse to seek medical aid, Lapung extended the strike by an additional 24 hours from 5pm this evening in the presence of additional district magistrate from the very police station in front of which he was “attacked”.

But he later relaxed the strike hours because of Arunachal Law Academy’s examinations.

As of now, the strike will be in force from 5pm Thursday to 5pm Friday.

Home minister Tanga Byaling said there are no provisions for negotiations with the students’ union and questioned the validity of its demands.

Byaling dismissed the demands saying that “they are nothing out of the ordinary” and added that “all of their demands fall under simple government procedures”.

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