Army on standby in Assam, internet suspended, curfew in Guwahati

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Guwahati: Assam is witnessing massive protests against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016. The Internet has been suspended in several districts and an indefinite curfew has been imposed in the state capital.

The Army has been kept on standby in the state besides being deployed in parts of Tripura.

The protesters burnt vehicles and pelted stones at security personnel and broke security barricades several times in Guwahati. The protests were staged at different areas, bringing normal activities in the city to a grinding halt.

One of the gates erected in honour of the upcoming Modi-Shinzo Abe meet in Guwahati was also torched by the protesters. The visit is now in doubt.

Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal remained stranded at the airport in Guwahati for a long time as protests also erupted on the road that leads to the city from the airport. He was returning from northern Assam’s Tezpur after visiting the house of the local MLA who died on Tuesday.

Around 5000 paramilitary forces are being airlifted to the Northeast, of which 2000 have been redeployed from Kashmir. According to defence sources, two columns of the Army have remained deployed in Tripura since Tuesday. Another column, requisitioned at Lower Assam’s Bongaigaon, had been kept on standby.

Curfew was clamped in Kamrup (Metro) district (read Guwahati and its adjoining areas) for an indefinite period while mobile internet services have been suspended for the next 24 hours from 7 pm on Wednesday in the trouble-torn areas.

The districts without mobile internet services are Lakhimpur, Dhemaji, Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Charaideo, Sivasagar, Jorhat, Golaghat, Kamrup (Metro) and Kamrup district as “the social media platforms…are likely to be used for spreading rumours and also for transmission of information like pictures, videos and texts that have the potential to inflame passion and thus, exacerbate the law and order situation”.

Several people, mostly students, were injured when the police and paramilitary forces used force to disperse protesters in Guwahati and Upper Assam’s Dibrugarh. The students took the lead in the protests on Wednesday by boycotting their semester exams.

The protests were spontaneous and they were staged in different parts of the state. Elderly people, including women, besides students and even minor boys were seen taking part in the protests to “save Assam” from the CAB. The fear is widespread and it is about the possible influx of lakhs of Bangladeshis in the event of the CAB’s passage.

The politicians were at the receiving end as protests were being staged outside their residences. The police apparently advised them not to venture out.

The protests on Wednesday first started at Bokul in Dibrugarh district of Upper Assam. Several protesters were injured when the police used batons to disperse a mob that blocked a highway. Thousands of people, including students and villagers, had hit the highway early in the morning. They burnt tyres on the road and blocked vehicular movement. A journalist was injured when the protesters pelted stones targeting policemen and personnel of paramilitary forces.

The protests in Guwahati were massive and they were staged mostly by students. Led by the students of the prestigious Cotton University, the protesters took out a march to reach the State Secretariat. They were joined by the students of other colleges on the way. When the students tried to break the police barricade at ABC area on the busy GS Road, the personnel resorted to lathi-charge and fired teargas shells to disperse them.

Several students, including girls, were injured. Even as their confrontation with the police and paramilitary personnel continued, thousands of people from different parts of the city joined them. Soon, they resumed the march and this time, managed to reach the vicinity of the State Secretariat but the security personnel fired teargas shells, blank shots and water cannons and used batons to disperse them.

This made the protesters retreat but they came again and again. Thousands of others, including even employees of the Secretariat, joined them. Eventually, at around 6:30 pm, the personnel managed to drive them away.

Centre airlifts 5,000 paramilitary personnel in Northeast: The Centre on Wednesday also airlifted 5,000 paramilitary personnel to Northeastern states, including Assam, for maintenance of law and order duties, officials said.

Nearly 20 companies (2,000 personnel) have been withdrawn from Kashmir, where they had been sent prior to the Centre’s decision on August 5 to abrogate Article 370 provisions and split the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir into two union territories.

The remaining 30 companies have been withdrawn from other places and rushed to Northeastern states, the officials said.

The troops are from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the Border Security Force (BSF) and the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB).

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