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Republic on Capital's streets

Protesting farmers use tractors to pull apart barricades; police fire tear gas; one dead; 86 cops injured & 8 FIRs filed

Republic on Capitals streets

New Delhi: India's Capital this Republic Day saw what would happen when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object as farmers protesting the Centre's three new farm laws entered the city from Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur border points — breaking police barricades, removing shipping containers and boulders designed to stall them till the Rajpath parade was over.

While the residents of Delhi turned up in large numbers across the city to shower protesting farmers with flower petals in areas like Nangloi and Ghazipur, the Delhi Police, paramilitary forces and other law enforcement agencies rained down tear gas shells and lathicharged the protesters in an attempt to stop them from proceeding to Central Delhi and the Outer Ring Road. However, they failed.

Significantly, all three rallies which were to use the predetermined routes agreed upon by both parties left their protest sites with the tractors hours before the Republic Day parade, jerking the police into action, which resulted in widespread and continuous use of tear gas shells and lathicharging.

At Ghazipur, around 11 am, protesters threw one of the barricades in the drain and then removed shipping containers and boulders with their tractors before marching into the city.

Loudspeakers were blaring songs and as soon as they got near the Akshardham Setu, there was a clash between police and farmers, during which tear gas was used. Many vehicles, including a truck and buses, were vandalised. But the farmers prevailed and removed cemented barricades to continue towards the ITO Crossing.

By this time, the other rallies had also meandered and protesters had flowed onto the Outer Ring Road, all of them heading towards Central Delhi.

At Delhi's Mukarba Chowk, farmers attempted to break cemented barriers and barricades on which police, most of them in riot gear, fired tear gas shells in order to quell their movement.

Police also fired tear gas shells on protestors near Peera Garhi and Maharaja Surajmal Metro Station.

Meanwhile, protesters were subjected to batons and tear gas at Nangloi and Mukarba Chowk, where they breached police barricades along the way.

Further chaos unfolded as farmers astride their tractors breached their way into ISBT Kashmere Gate and Central Delhi's ITO which witnessed incidents of stone-pelting and tear gas shelling even as farmers chased away police personnel with sticks.

They also broke some of the police barricades installed near the Old Police Headquarters.

Later in the day, hundreds of farmers from the three border points made their way towards Old Delhi's Red Fort and barged into the premises and hoisted a flag from the staff installed on the ramparts of the monument.

Subsequently, police personnel resorted to lathicharging the protesters, both outside and inside the Red Fort, in order to remove them from the spot, where scores suffered critical injuries.

Meanwhile, the Delhi Police's plan to stop protesters from coming onto the Outer Ring Road failed and many cops had to sit-in on the roads to block farmers from deviating from the prescribed rally routes.

Thousands of growers, part of the Singhu rally, marched towards the bypass from where according to the approved roadmap they were supposed to move towards Bawana.

However, "we have come here to march towards the Outer Ring Road and that is where we will go. Farmer leaders have put us down here," a farmer from Tarn Taran said before they broke the heavy barricading at the bypass and started marching towards the city centre.

The Delhi Police said they had tried their best to show restraint while handling the swelling crowds but those protesting had gone rogue and become violent, as a result of which they also had to use force to disperse them. Despite multiple warnings from the police and the farmer leaders, protesters carried weapons like swords, knives and rods with them — inflicting pain upon anyone coming in their way.

Police said hundreds were injured and 86 of their own were also severely hurt. At least 19 farmers were admitted to various hospitals in the city for their injuries.

Furthermore, Home Minister Amit Shah chaired a meeting with the Delhi Police Commissioner and other officials after the violence and directed added paramilitary force to be deployed in the city. Sources added that an inquiry into the breach of Red Fort had also been ordered.

Moreover, during the violence at Red Fort, the Ministry of Home Affairs had also cut off the Internet at five key protest sites — Singhu, Tikri, Ghazipur, Mukarba Chowk, Nangloi. Following this, Internet services were also suspended in three districts of Haryana for 24 hours, including Sonepat, Jhajjar and Palwal.

The Delhi Police have said they have registered eight rioting FIRs in connection with the violence on Tuesday and more may be registered soon. Cases for the alleged offence of hoisting a religious flag on an empty mast at Red Fort may also be on the cards, according to officials aware of developments.

While most of the farmers who were part of the rally had managed to stick to their routes and return to the protest sites at the border, the ones who had entered the Red Fort left to go back later in the day after saying they "had delivered their message". At the time of writing this report, the Delhi Police was still trying to remove protesters from outside the monument after having cleared the inside premises.

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