Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Police shoot dead 5 Bloc men, Bengal bandh today

Kolkata, February 5 Just when the Nandigram fires have begun to smoulder down, the CPM-led government in West Bengal is caught in another political headache: its partner Forward Bloc, testy for long, is now up in arms after at least five of its supporters were killed in police firing when they were protesting against the state government's failure to implement the job guarantee scheme and to give enough jobs to Muslims.

The incident happened outside the office of the Sub-divisional officer, Dinhata, in Coochbehar district this afternoon. This was a statewide protest but the maximum turnout was in Dinhata — a traditional bastion of the Forward Bloc — where a mob of about 12,000 gathered outside the SDO's office.

Police claimed that the protesters attacked them with bamboo staves and they had to open fire in self-defence at close quarters. One police inspector and a constable were seriously injured.

Shortly after news of the police firing reached the Forward Bloc's state headquarters in Kolkata, the party called a 24-hour statewide bandh. The bandh, the first-ever to be called by one Front partner against the CPM, is expected to disrupt life as it has the support of almost all Opposition parties, including the Trinamool Congress, the Congress, SUCI and even Front partners like the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP).

Nearly 50 people were injured in a police lathicharge and teargas. When the police failed to contain the rampaging mob, they resorted to firing killing four on the spot. Another supporter died in hospital later in the night. The fresh flare-up and the killings in police firing added fuel to a already charged political environment in which the two Front constituents have found themselves locked for quite some time now.

In fact, the Nandigram police firing, in which 14 people died, had prompted the Forward Bloc to demand a greater say for smaller partners in Left Front's decisions. Ashok Ghosh, the state secretary, rallied the Revolutionary Socialist Party and the CPI to set up an informal grouping dubbed the "mini-Left Front." Trinamool leader Mamata Banerjee, who has been trying to woo the Forward Bloc away from the Front ever since Nandigram, promptly called up Ghosh to tell him of her party's support.

Ghosh said the party has not been able to identify two of the four killed in police firing. "We are calling a bandh against police barbarism," he said alleging that the police had opened fire without any provocation. Sources said Ashok Ghosh and Biman Bose got into an argument, with the CPM leader pointing out that government vehicles had been set on fire by protestors before the police opened fire. Ghosh later told reporters: "I told Biman Bose not to spread lies and untruths."

The Chief Minister was not available for comment. A defensive CPM issued an official statement saying that the police had been attacked and police vehicles set on fire. "Police opened fire — and sadly, four people died," the CPM said.

Transport minister Subhash Chakraborty, demanded a judicial inquiry. "This incident will impact the unity of the Left Front," he said.

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