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Sunday, July 29, 2007

A Day After Police Firing, Situation Tense In Khammam

The situation in Andhra Pradesh's Khammam district remained tense Sunday as activists of the left parties continued their protests, parading the bodies of six people who died in police firing a day earlier.

Wrapped in red flags of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), the bodies of the six were kept outside the district collector's officer in Khammam town, about 15 km from Mudigonda, the scene of the police firing.

The protestors have been staging a sit-in with the bodies since Saturday evening. They are demanding that murder cases be booked against the policemen involved in the 'unprovoked' firing.

The six CPI-M activists were killed and eight others were injured when police opened fired at protestors at Mudigonda, about 200 km from here, during the Left parties' statewide agitation seeking land for the poor. Initial reports had put the death toll at eight.

The Communist Party of India (CPI) and CPI-M had given call for a shutdown in Andhra Pradesh Saturday against the use of force by police against their activists at different places Thursday when the firing took place.

On Sunday, the two parties called for shutdown in Khammam district. For the second consecutive day, life came to a standstill in Khammam, considered one of the strongholds of the Left parties.

Shops and business establishments remained closed while the state-owned road transport corporation suspended its bus services.

The two parties and the main opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP) are staging protests across the state to condemn the police firing. CPI-M politburo member Sitaram Yechuri and other leaders of the party and TDP president and former chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu have left for Khammam.

Talking to newsmen here before leaving for Khammam, Naidu demanded the resignation of Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy. He alleged that policemen used AK-47 rifles and Self Loading Rifles (SLRs) to fire at protestors.

'Never before in the history of the state have such sophisticated weapons been used against political activists,' he said.

The Congress government has blamed the presence of two Maoist leaders in the protest at Mudigonda for the violence.

However, acting swiftly, the chief minister ordered a judicial probe in the police firing, transferred the district superintendent of police and suspended the additional superintendent of police.

For nearly three months, the communist parties have been holding 'bhooporatam' or land agitation in the state, demanding housing sites and land for poor.

Some Left activists encroached government and private lands at various places in the state, leading to clashes with the police.

Last week, they intensified the protests when top leaders of the parties launched an indefinite strike in Hyderabad. Late Friday, the police shifted the fasting leaders to a hospital.

The Congress government maintains that the protest by the Left parties is 'unnecessary' as it has taken up a massive programme for construction of houses and distribution of surplus land among poor.

'There is no need for any opposition party to agitate as we remain committed to providing a house to every houseless family and land to every landless,' said Rajasekhara Reddy.

However, Saturday's incidents have embarrassed the ruling party.

The central leadership of the party has reportedly sought a report from Reddy on the incident as the Left parties, who are supporting Congress-led UPA government at the centre, have threatened that the incident could have its repercussions.

The CPI-M and CPI had fought the 2004 elections in the state in alliance with Congress. However, the CPI-M later distanced itself on the ground that the Congress government was resorting to 'anti-people measures'. The Left parties, especially CPI-M, later moved closer to the TDP.

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