10 killed in police firing in Assam panchayat polls

Guwahati, Feb 12 (IANS) At least 10 people were killed in police firing during panchayat polls in Assam's Goalpara district Tuesday, police said.

Security forces opened fire to prevent polling officials from being lynched by a mob that was opposing the elections, Principal Secretary (Home) G.D. Tripathy told IANS.

He said the security personnel resorted to firing after a mob attacked officials who were in the area to conduct the third round of panchayat polling.

Ten bodies were recovered from Dhupdhara, Krishnai, Rangjuli and Bekipul areas, he said. There were reports of sporadic violence from Kamrup district too, he added.

Indefinite curfew was imposed in some areas of Goalpara and Kamrup district, which falls under the Rabha Hasong Autonomous Council (RHAC), Tripathy said.

Eight army columns were rushed to the violence-affected areas and troops also carried out a flag march, he said.

Tripathy said 20 people, including polling officials and police and security personnel were injured.

Anticipating violence, the state government had already deployed 23 companies of security forces in Goalpara and 20 in Kamrup.

Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi called the violence unfortunate and announced ex-gratia relief of Rs.five lakh to the kin of each of the deceased and Rs.50,000 to each injured.

He also promised compensation to those whose houses were damaged, a statement from the chief minister's office said.

It said panchayat polls were held in Rabha Hasong as it was the government's "constitutional duty" and promised to hold RHAC elections once the panchayat polls were over.

It also said voting would be held at a later date in areas where it was not possible to hold polling Tuesday.

There was tension in the Rabha Hasong Autonomous Council areas since Monday ahead of the polls with sporadic violence and people blocking roads to polling stations.

Thousands also took to the streets Monday to enforce a "janata curfew" (public curfew) to stop polling officials in Goalpara and parts of Kamrup from reaching polling stations.

The Rabhas has been opposing panchayat polls in RHAC areas, demanding council elections first.

The government, however, decided to hold the polls in the entire state citing constitutional obligations.

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