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Police use water cannon, tear gas to disperse protesters

Thiruvananthapuram: Police resorted to the use of water cannon and tear gas to disperse protesters at several places as various political organisations on Wednesday took out marchesacross the state alleging that "important files" were destroyed in the fire that broke out at the Secretariat here.

Many workers were allegedly injured in the police action. The Congress and the BJP, their youth-wing organisations, women's wing organisations, and the Socialist Democratic Party of India (SDPI) took out marches at various places, including to the secretariat here, in protest against the left government.

The workers alleged that the fire last evening was a "move to destroy the files" related to the gold smuggling case. The government maintained that none of the important files were destroyed as the state secretariat had a few years ago migrated all its files to the e-files system as part of the paperless secretariat initiative.

Police resorted to the use of water cannon and tear gas at workers of YuvaMorcha, the youth wing of BJP, who tried to climb over the police barricade and enter the secretariat complex in Thiruvanathapuram.

The BJP took out another rally which was followed by those of the Youth Congress, the Congress, and the SDPI.

The Mahila Congress also marched to the secretariat, trying to break the the barricades which were set around the complex since early morning.

Youth Congress activists burnt an effigy of the chief minister PinarayiVijayan at Kannur and Ernakulam, sources said.

The Youth Congress activists also staged protests at various districts and there was a minor scuffle when police tried to arrest and remove them at Kollam, police said. The YuvaMorcha march to Kannur also allegedly turned violent, injuring many. Leader of Opposition in the state assembly Ramesh Chennithala launched a scathing attack on Chief Secretary VishwasMehtha and said he is now the "AvishwasMehtha." The files were destroyed to save Swapna Suresh (key accused in the gold smuggling case), Sivashankar (suspended senior IAS officer and former principal secretary to CM)and the chief minister, he alleged.

"The government has appointed the Chief Secretary to defend them. He is not Vishwas Mehta anymore but'Avishwas Mehta. When a fire broke out in the General Administration Department yesterday, Mehta chased away the media who came to find out what happened," Chennithala told reporters during a protest march in front of the secretariat. Chennithala also shot off a letter to Governor Arif Mohammed Khan urging him to "summon" the chief secretary and the chief minister to seek "explanation" over the "gross negligence" resulting in the fire.

Meanwhile, BJP state chief K Surendran said the government's explanation on e-files was not satisfactory and the fire was "pre-planned."

"Most of the employees were quarantined and the government is yet to release the details of those who have turned positive and the number of staff under quarantine.

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