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Assembly polls 4th phase: 5 killed in violence, including 4, in CISF firing

Assembly polls 4th phase: 5 killed in violence, including 4, in CISF firing
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Kolkata: Five persons, including a first-time voter, were shot dead in two separate incidents in Cooch Behar on Saturday during the fourth phase elections in the state. Trinamool Congress chairperson Mamata Banerjee has sought the resignation of Union Home minister Amit Shah over the incident in which Central forces opened fire on a mob at the Sitalkuchi Assembly constituency in Mathabhanga block resulting in the death of four persons and termed it as a "cold-blooded murder". She also said that her government will initiate a CID probe into the incident.

Meanwhile, the Election Commission, later on Saturday evening, banned the entry of politicians in Cooch Behar for the next 72 hours, saying it could cause law and order issues in the area. The poll body also directed the Union Home Ministry to deploy 71 additional companies of Central Armed Police forces (CAPFs) for the conduct of the remaining four phases of polls.

The order implies that the Trinamool Congress chairperson, who had earlier announced to visit Sitalkuchi on Sunday to meet the families of the deceased, will not be able to do so. The Commission has also ordered that the silence period for the fifth phase in Bengal shall be extended up to 72 hours and no campaigns shall be permitted during 72 hours from the close of polls.

The EC immediately adjourned voting at booth number 125 of the Sitalkuchi constituency following the incident and has sought a detailed report from the Observers and the state Chief Electoral Officer (CEO).

Deputy Election Commissioner in charge of West Bengal Sudip Jain asked the CEO to send a detailed report, including video footage of the incident, to know under what circumstances the force had to resort to open fire.

"Heart wrenching reports of 5 innocent people shot dead by Central Forces coming in from Cooch Behar. @AmitShah is this your vision for Bengal when u call for turning Bengal into 'SonarBangla'," tweeted TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee. Trinamool Congress will hold protest meetings at all blocks in the state on Sunday. TMC leader Saugata Roy termed the incident as an "effort to intimidate voters".

TMC vice-president Yashwant Sinha tweeted: "Election Commission has covered itself with mud by stopping Mamata from going to Coochbehar. After all she is still the CM of Bengal and it is her duty to visit the place of this unfortunate occurrence. We know for certain now that EC is not fair."

Speaking at a rally in Siliguri on Saturday, Prime Minister Modi said: "What happened in Cooch Behar is very sad. My sympathies are with the families of those who died. I condole their demise. Didi and her goons are perturbed, seeing the people's support for BJP. She has stooped to this level as she can see her chair slipping away."

The first incident occurred when the Central forces opened fire on an unruly mob at Sitalkuchi in Mathabhanga block. The deceased persons have been identified as Chhalmu Mia (23), Nameed Mia (20), Amzad Hossain (28) and Jobed Ali (20). Seven others, including three polling officers and a home guard, sustained injuries in the incident.

Eyewitnesses have claimed that some people started staging protests near the booth after the Central force jawans beat up a child who had fallen sick. There was an angry exchange of words between the people and the Central forces personnel when suddenly the latter opened fire.

The preliminary report of the General Observer and Police Observer of Sitalkuchi district has pointed out that the CISF personnel opened fire for self-defence and to save government properties like EVMs and other polling materials.

According to the report, a young boy, Manik Md, fell sick at around 9.45 am at booth no 126 at Amtali at Jorpatki village. Some two-three local ladies were taking care of him and the CISF security personnel in the booth asked if the boy needed to be taken to the hospital. Some locals thought that the boy had been beaten up by the CISF and started raising a hue and cry and soon nearly 300-350 villagers gathered there, including some women with kitchen tools, that could hurt someone brutally. The agitated mob, due to the misunderstanding, attacked the CISF personnel and some of them tried to snatch their arms and ammunition. They also tried to attack the polling personnel in the booth. The jawans and police personnel sought reinforcement and the QRT rushed to the spot. The QRT team was also attacked by the mob. The CISF personnel fired in open air but it did not deter the mob. Faced with no alternative to save their lives and polling materials like EVMs, they opened fire. Four persons who got bullet injuries died.

However, the footage shown on different media platforms didn't show that a mob had attacked the Central forces.

In another incident earlier in the day, a first-time voter Ananda Barman, 18, a resident of Pathantuli under Golenawhati Gram Panchayat, Sitalkuchi, died when he was shot from a firearm by unknown miscreants after casting his vote. The incident occurred within a distance of 100-150 metres from the polling booth. He was brought to the local health centre (BPHC) at Sitalkuchi where he was pronounced dead. His mother was also injured during the said firing incident as reported by the local police station.

The police rushed to the spot and detained two suspected persons for their involvement. Raids are on at the probable hideouts of the suspected accused persons whose names have surfaced at the local level during the preliminary inquiry.

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