Manipur: ‘Protest March’ held defying curfew, 30 injured as police fire teargas shells

IMPHAL, SEPTEMBER 6 (IANS): Over 30 protestors, including women, were injured in a clash with the security forces, who also fired several rounds of teargas shells to disperse the thousands of men and women who tried to break security barricades at Phougakchao Ikhai in Manipur's Bishnupur district on Wednesday, officials said.

Defying the curfew, the government's appeal and deployment of unprecedented number of central and state security forces, thousands of people from different districts, as part of the ‘Protest March’, assembled to remove an army barricade at Phougakchao Ikhai in Bishnupur district, a few kilometres away from tribal-dominated Churachandpur district.

The Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI), an umbrella body of the Meitei community, and its women wing, called the protest march to remove the army barricade, which locals claim, prevents them from visiting their homes at Torbung, which they had to vacate after the ethnic violence broke out on May 3.

Police and COCOMI leaders said that the injured were shifted to the hospitals.

Hundreds and thousands of men and women of different valley districts also blockaded roads to prevent the movement of security forces who were on their way to Phougakchao Ikhai from Imphal and other valley districts.

According to Apunba Manipur Kanba Ima Lup (AMKIL) President Lourembam Nganbi, hundreds of people belonging to Meitei community fled their homes at Torbung and adjoining areas after the ethnic violence started on May 3 and are unable to visit their homes because of the army barricades.

"We have been demanding that those keen to return or visit their homes at Torbung and adjoining areas be allowed to visit or return to their homes."

Apprehending serious law and order problems, the Manipur government had cancelled curfew relaxations in Meitei-dominated five valley districts on Wednesday and massive security measures were put in place in view of the protest march called by the COCOMI.

Officials said that a full curfew was clamped in all the five valley districts -- Bishnupur, Kakching, Thoubal, Imphal West, and Imphal East and a huge contingent of security forces were deployed in different districts as a preventive measure from Tuesday evening.

For the past many weeks, curfew was relaxed in all the five valley districts from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. The state government also on Tuesday night has appealed to the COCOMI to withdraw the protest March.

Information and Public Relations Minister Sapam Ranjan said that the government has removed many of the barricades already in different parts of the state. Moreover, around 700 displaced people of Torbung area, who were taking refuge in various relief camps, have started to come back and resettle in their original houses, which had not been damaged during the past few days.

COCOMI media coordinator Somendro Thokchom said that the organisation had earlier urged the government and the authorities concerned to remove the barricade at Phougakchao Ikhai by August 30.