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Six 'rioters' killed in Haldwani clashes, CM calls it 'planned attack'

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Pushkar Singh Dhami meets a man who was injured in the violence that erupted after the demolition of an 'illegally built' madrasa, in Haldwani, Friday, Feb. 9, 2024.

Pushkar Singh Dhami meets a man who was injured in the violence that erupted after the demolition of an 'illegally built' madrasa, in Haldwani, Friday, Feb. 9, 2024.

Haldwani/New Delhi: Six rioters were killed in the violence that broke out over the demolition of an illegally built madrasa, officials said Friday as curfew remained enforced in Uttarakhand's Haldwani town.

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More than 60 people were hurt Thursday as local residents hurled stones and petrol bombs at municipal workers and the police, forcing many police personnel to seek refuge in a police station which the mob then set on fire.

Seven people, including a journalist, were under treatment Friday at three different hospitals. Three of them were said to be in a serious condition. Others had been discharged.

Altogether, six rioters were killed, Superintendent of Police (City) Harbans Singh told PTI.

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A day after the clashes, with curfew in force since 9 pm Thursday, Haldwani’s the Banbhoolpura area looked deserted. Stones were strewn on the streets and there were charred remains of torched vehicles.

On Friday, no further incidents of violence were reported from the locality where the madrasa -- which included a "structure" where prayers were held – were held.

Over 1,000 police personnel remained deployed in the city, close to Nainital, officials said. The demolished structures were on government land, and municipal workers and police acted after court orders, they said.

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Officials said stones were pelted at them from rooftops, where they appeared to have been stocked.

At least some of the alleged rioters killed in the violence had gunshot wounds.

District Magistrate Nainital District Magistrate (DM) Vandana Singh confirmed that orders to open fire, with instructions to shoot the rioters in the leg, were issued when the mob attacked the police station.

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Uttarakhand police chief Abhinav Kumar said action will also be taken under the stringent National Security Act against those found to be involved in the attacks on police personnel.

“I don’t know how I survived,” a policewoman told a television channel from her hospital bed, as she talked about being targeted by local residents who had resisted the demolition.

In Delhi, BJP MPs said the Haldwani violence appeared to be a "conspiracy" and warranted strict action against the guilty.

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In Parliament, Indian Union Muslim league MP E T Mohammed Basheer said such incidents should not happen, or the country will suffer. He also referred to the Uniform Civil Code bill passed this week in Uttarakhand Assembly.

DGP Kumar said the situation was under control to a large extent with the imposition of curfew but they are focused on bringing back normalcy in the town within the next 24 hours.

Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami visited Haldwani, meeting some of the injured. He termed the violence a “planned attack”, and said the stockpiling of arms, stones and petrol bombs suggested this.

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"Our women police personnel were brutally thrashed. They even tried to throw a journalist into the flames. It was an attempt to disrupt the atmosphere of social amity and peace for which Uttarakhand is known," he told reporters.

"Action will be taken. Law will take its own course," he said.

“Every rioter involved in arson and stone pelting should be identified and strictest action taken against them”, Dhami had said earlier in the day.

Four people were arrested up to around noon Friday, and three FIRs registered, police said.

Around 15 or 20 people seem to have been involved in instigating the violence, a police official said.

"The riot on Thursday was totally unprovoked and a handiwork of unruly elements who were not trying to protect the structures being demolished, but targeting the authorities, the state machinery and law and order," DM Singh said.

Police dispersed the mobs that hurled stones and petrol bomb-hurling mob without using much force until the police station was attacked, she said.

Some in the mob were also armed with crude weapons, including country-made pistols, she said.

Internet services in Haldwani were suspended to prevent rumours being spread, officials said. Schools are ordered closed for now.

The DM said the structures stood on encroached government land and were demolished after serving an advance notice, in compliance with a court order.

The demolition drive began after the municipal corporation had taken complete legal possession of the two structures, she added.

She said the demolition exercise was not an isolated incident targeting particular structures but part of an anti-encroachment drive being carried out in the state to free illegally-occupied government land, Singh said.

"The structure that is being called a madrasa was illegal. In official records, it was not registered either as a madrasa or a religious structure," she said.

Stone pelting from the rooftops of houses was “planned” as no stones were found on the rooftops during an advance inspection of the area, the DM claimed.

The rioting by the local people area began 30 minutes into the demolition exercise, she added.

In Delhi, Shiv Sena (UBT) MP Priyanka Chaturvedi blamed the violence on "polarisation" created by BJP.

"I am hoping the Home Minister will take cognisance," Chaturvedi said, adding, "If the police have been attacked it is shameful, it shows how hooliganism is prevailing in BJP-ruled states.” The BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP Harnath Yadav said, "The incident in Haldwani is a conspiracy. Bombs, country-made pistols and other weapons were used, and government officials and police were attacked. There should be an order to shoot rioters at sight... There is no need to be lenient with them."

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