Mumbai: Two persons were killed and many others, including several mediapersons and policemen, were injured in Mumbai when a protest against Assam riots at Azad Maidan Ground turned violent as demonstrators torched vehicles, including media vans, and pelted stones, leading the police to fire in the air and use batons to the disperse the unruly mob on Saturday. Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan said a high alert had been sounded all over the state and security tightened at all sensitive locations following the violence.
Hundreds of protesters had gathered at the Azad Maidan Ground in south Mumbai on Saturday afternoon following a call by a city-based organisation Raza Academy to denounce the violence in Assam and alleged attacks on the minority community in Myanmar. But suddenly the protesters turned violent and set afire vehicles, damaged buses and pelted stones.
"Two youths, Mohammed Umar (22) and Altaf Shaikh (18), who were injured in the violence and were in critical condition, died while undergoing treatment at St George Hospital," a civic body official said. All the injured were shifted to JJ Hospital, St George Hospital, GT Hospital and Bombay Hospital, police said.
The Maharashtra government has asked the Mumbai crime branch to conduct a probe into the violence. Sources said some people have already been detained for interrogation.
A high alert has been sounded all over the state, said Chavan, adding Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Rapid Action Force (RAF) and State Reserve Police (SRP) personnel have been mobilised.
Azad Maidan, a regular venue for protests, is located near local civic body headquarters and Mumbai CST railway station. The area wore a deserted look as policemen cordoned off the locality and patrolled the streets following the violent incidents.
Due to the unrest, suburban train services and road traffic in India's financial capital were also disrupted.
Condemning the violence in Mumbai, Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde warned of strong action against rumour mongers and appealed to the people to maintain peace. "I appeal to the people to maintain peace. There is peace even in Assam. No one should spread any rumours. We will take strong action against rumour mongers," he said in New Delhi.
"Three media OB vans, three police vehicles, two motorcycles and a public transport bus were set on fire. Forty BEST (civic) buses, two four-wheelers and five two-wheelers were damaged in stone pelting," police said. Reports said some shops at the CST railway station subway were also attacked.
The Mumbai Press Club has asked the government to conduct a thorough inquiry into the violence, in which the media was targeted, and punish those responsible for it.
Meanwhile, Raza Academy distanced itself from the incident. "While we were protesting, some people got aggressive and started behaving violently," Mohammed Saeed, General Secretary of the academy, said. "We never encourage violence and strongly condemn such acts," he added.
(With additional information from PTI)