The death toll from police firing at Tuticorin on Thursday went up to 13, even as cases were registered against opposition leaders, including Dravida Munnetra Kazagham’s M K Stalin and actor-politician Kamal Haasan for defying probibitory orders, officials said.
Over 100 people were arrested for protesting police firing on Tuesday and Wednesday in the port city that left 13 dead.
Amid a political slugfest over the incidents of police-public clashes, DMK leader Stalin held a sit-in protest at Fort St George, the state secretariat, before being physically lifted and removed by security personnel, while Chief Minister K Palaniswami broke his silence and blamed the opposition for “instigating” violence.
Among those killed were two women, a senior police officer said.
Cases were filed against Stalin, Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief Vaiko, and Kamal Haasan, who recently founded political outfit Makkal Needhi Maiam, for defying prohibitory orders on Wednesday while visiting a hospital in Tuticorin where those injured in clashes were convalescing.
Over 100 people were arrested in Tuticorin for rioting, setting ablaze and damaging public property, and assaulting police personnel.
Cases under IPC sections and the Tamil Nadu Public Property (Prevention of Damage and Loss) Act were registered against them. As many as 65 of those arrested were granted bail by a Tuticorin court later in the day.
Sandeep Nanduri and Murali Rambha, meanwhile, assumed charge as the Collector and SP of Tuticorin.
N Venkatesh and P Mahendran, collector and police superintendent respectively were on Wednesday shunted out of Tuticorin following the violence.
Sporadic incidents of violence were reported from a few places in Tuticorin city where a state-run liqour outlet was ransacked early on Thursday.
Normal life continued to be affected for the third day on Thursday as modes of public transport including buses, and autos did not ply. Most shops were shut.
Police in anti-riot gear patrolled the streets as prohibitory orders banning assembly of more than four people continued to be in force.
The government had on Wednesday ordered suspension of internet services in Tuticorin and adjoining districts of Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari for five days to prevent spread of rumours through social media and help restore peace.
Violent protests had erupted in the city on Tuesday and Wednesday as locals took to streets demanding closure of a copper factory of the Vedanta group over pollution concerns.
Demanding the resignation of Palaniswami and sacking of state police chief T K Rajendran over large-scale arson and violence in Tuticorin, about 600 km from state capital Chennai, Stalin staged a sit-in with party MLAs at Fort St George complex.
Even after police removed the agitators from the secretariat premises, they continued the protest at Rajaji Salai, right in front of Fort St George.
Raising slogans like “we want justice” and “shame on the government,” the protesters demanded immediate resignation of the Palaniswami government.
Palaniswami broke his silence and blamed opposition parties and anti-social elements for the violence that brought the city down to its knees.
Terming the incidents as “unfortunate,” he condoled the deaths and said all past agitations for the closure of the plant were peaceful.
“This time around it (protest) turned violent. It was due to instigation by some political parties and owing to infiltration by anti-social elements,” Palaniswami, who is under relentless attack from the Opposition, said.
Recalling steps taken by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam governments for the closure of the plant, Palaniswami said the “deliberate” violence was meant “to bring disrepute to the government and put it under pressure”.
He said the state government was making efforts for the closure of the plant since 2013, when late J Jayalalithaa was the chief minister.
“As far as Amma’s government is concerned, we respect people’s feelings,” he said, adding all legal steps were under way to shut the Sterlite plant, and cases were pending before the Supreme Court and high court.
Stalin said DMK and ally Congress’s MLAs boycotted Thursday’s meeting of the Business Advisory Committee of the state legislature ahead of the start of the assembly session on May 29.
The Leader of Opposition assailed the chief minister for not visiting the families of the victims of police firing, and said the shifting of the district collector and police chief hardly mattered, as it did not amount to any action against them.
“The chief minister is not bothered about the people. He should immediately resign. Director General of Police T K Rajendran must also be removed or he should resign,” Stalin said, adding MLAs of his party and ally Congress made these demands at the BAC meeting before walking out.
“The government is in limbo,” he said, and demanded a judicial inquiry into the incidents by a sitting judge of the Madras high court.
The government had on Wednesday constituted an inquiry commission headed by retired HC judge Aruna Jagadeesan to probe the circumstances leading to violence and subsequent police firing.