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Darjeeling simmers in indefinite shutdown

By The Assam Tribune

Darjeeling, June 17 (IANS): Trouble-hit Darjeeling continued to simmer on Saturday as the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM)-sponsored indefinite shutdown entered the sixth day with police raiding and allegedly vandalising the residence of party assistant general secretary Binay Tamang.

The "Queen of Hills" virtually turned into a battlefield as protests marked the shutdown which was countered by supporters of Bengal's ruling the Trinamool Congress and dominant hill party, the GJM.

Widespread protests erupted in Singamari (northern point of Darjeeling) as the women's wing of the GJM rallied with shrill sloganeering against the raid at Tamang's residence. Hundreds of women activists ratcheted up the demand for the separate State of Gorkhaland with slogans of "Gorkhaland Gorkhaland" holding aloft the tricolour.

Police fired tear gas shells as the women activists pelted stones and pushed back at the police barricade shouting "Police Go Back".

At around 3 am, on Saturday, Tamang claimed his house was "raided and vandalised by the police and the Trinamool Congress cadres" in the same manner as they had raided party chief Bimal Gurung's house in Darjeeling district two days ago.

Tamang also claimed police arrested Vikram Rai, son of GJM MLA Amar Rai.

Amar Rai said his son has no political affiliations.

"We are shocked and stunned to inform you all that Vikram Rai - a local journalist, was arrested last night. Rai was associated with various media houses based in Kolkata and was also a stringer for a television channel. If local journalists are not safe in Darjeeling, who is," Tamang said in statement.

"There is a virtual emergency imposed in Darjeeling region," he added.

GJM supporters pelted stones and lobbed petrol bombs at the residence of Trinamool Congress activist Deoraj Gurung in Lebong Cart Road and attempted to set the house on fire, claimed Deoraj.

At Pankhabari, the picturesque tea gardens-lined but notoriously narrow road from Bagdogra airport to Kurseong, GJM supporters allegedly attacked a local Trinamool activist's residence.

A PWD (public works department) office at Bijonbari, was reportedly set on fire by GJM supporters.

The ongoing agitation has crippled tourism.

According to a railway official, the toy-train services of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) has been suspended in view of the strike for the safety of passengers and staffs.

The GJM announced an indefinite general strike from Monday in the hills encompassing Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts and the Dooars (foothills of the Himalayas covering stretches of Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar district) protesting against Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's decision to make Bengali language compulsory in state-run schools.

The strike was called even as the Chief Minister give an assurance that the new rule would not be imposed in the hill districts.

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