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Idol immersion row: Several hurt as VHP, cops clash in Varanasi; curfew lifted

Varanasi: Curfew, which was imposed for a short period in various areas of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's constituency Varanasi on Monday evening after violence erupted during the ‘anyay pratikar yatra’ taken out by seers and other locals in protest against lathi-charge on sadhus and batuks (religious scholars), has been lifted. Schools and colleges in the city will remain closed today.

In a joint statement, divisional commissioner Nitin Ramesh Gokarn and district magistrate Rajmani Yadav said, “Curfew was imposed for only two hours in areas under four police stations - Dashashwamedh, Chowk, Kotwali and Luxa - to disperse the crowd and maintain law and order situation. It has been lifted. The section 144, which is already in force, will be enforced in an effective way.” Around 29 people were taken into custody.

The trouble arose as anti-social elements set a police booth and six vehicles, including two police jeeps and four motor-bikes , on fire.
The unidentified troublemakers also indulged in stone-pelting, injuring 10 persons, including six police personnel, one of whom sustained a severe injury.  Few media persons, including a photographer of a leading daily, were also hurt. Police used tear gas to disperse the crowd.

The violence erupted around 3.30pm when thousands of people, including seers, Congress MLA Ajay Rai along with some other leaders from his party and those from BJP took out the march taken out from town hall park from Townhall to Dashashwamedh Ghat to protest against the incident of police lathicharge on them during their dharna staged between September 21 and 23.

The stone-pelting triggered a minor stampede. The mob damaged a fire-tender which reached the Godowlia intersection to douse the flames at the police booth there.

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh late Monday night spoke to Varanasi SSP Akash Kulhari to take stock of the situation and asked him to ensure peace.

The violence broke out during a march by seers and some other locals, when some miscreants in the crowd resorted to stone-pelting at policemen, police sources said.
Reserve police force personnel resorted to a cane-charge to disperse the mob. Police personnel, led by district police chief Akash Kulhari, lobbed tear gas shells to control the situation.

Divisional commissioner Nitin Ramesh Gokarn confirmed that the curfew was imposed in four police station areas in the city.

“After some anti-social elements tried to disturb the peace during the anyay pratikar yatra, curfew has been imposed in areas under the Chowk, Dashashwamedh, Luxa and Kotwali police stations,” the commissioner said.

Gokarn appealed the people not to pay attention to rumours. He also said strict action would be taken against rumour-mongering, especially through social networking sites, adding, that the administration was monitoring the social networking sites.

Earlier, the yatra led by Swami Avimukteshwaranand of Vidya Math began from the town hall park where sadhus addressed a gathering of thousands.

Following the violence, Swami Avimukteshwaranand and Swami Balakdas, who were leading the yatra, stopped at a temple near Godowlia. He asked the administrative officials to allow him to move towards Chittranjan Park but the demand was rejected.

Notably, on September 21 night, the administration had enforced an Allahabad high court order and denied permission for immersion of a Ganesha idol in the river Ganga, leading to sit-in. The police resorted to a lathicharge on September 22 night in order to disperse the protesters. The idol was later immersed in Laxmi Kund (a pond) nearby.

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