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Lucknow: 4 killed as anti-Bush protests turn violent

By Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow
Last updated on: March 04, 2006 00:34 IST
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Four persons were killed and 8 injured in Lucknow as anti-George Bush protests by local Muslims turned violent, even taking on a communal hue on Friday.

Localities in and around Qaiserbagh, Aminabad, Moulviganj and a few other areas in the walled city of Lucknow continued to remain tense until late Friday night . Heavy police patrolling has been ordered to prevent any fresh escalation of violence.

It was the second day of anti-Bush protests in the city. However, what was planned as a protest demonstration after Friday prayers outside the city's  historic Imambara  mosque, took a serious turn when bands of Muslim youth spread across the city markets and started forcing closure of shops and commercial establishments.

While Muslim shop-owners  readily offered to pull down their shutters, some Hindus resisted the move, thereby inviting the ire of the demonstrators. In the busy Qaiserbagh locality, Hindu vegetable vendors not only refused to shut their shops but even attacked the protestors.

Initially, the protestors made a quiet retreat, but shortly thereafter they returned in larger numbers to have it out with the vegetable vendors. A free-for-all ensued to the extent that firearms were whipped out from both sides, following which the police opened fire, leaving one dead on the spot. Another succumbed to his wounds in the King George's Medical University Trauma Centre.

Police, however, claimed that the victim had died in exchange of fire between the two warring sides . "Our men opened fire only in the air to disperse the mob and to quell violence," said Superintendent of police Umesh Srivastava.

The situation turned for the worse largely on account of the poor presence of the police, which remained deployed in protocol duties for the visit of President APJ Abdul Kalam who, accompanied by former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was here to inaugurate a private hospital.

Earlier in the day, several thousand Muslim demonstrators staged road-blocks, burnt effigies of the US President, while angrily raising slogans of  'World's biggest devil - George Bush' and 'Go back – Bush'.

It was the assembly of Muslims at Lucknow's popular mosque inside the Imambara that turned into a demonstration shortly after the Friday afternoon namaz.

Prominent Shia cleric Maulana Kalbe Jawaad and his leading Sunni counterpart Maulana Fazlur Rehman addressed the gathering, accusing the United States of  unleashing an 'anti-Islamic tirade' in different parts of the world.

They also condemned the Indian government and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for according Bush a grand reception.

Releasing black balloons and holding black flags ,the demonstrators  began their march towards the state assembly, but they were prevented from moving beyond a certain point. While the cops were engaged in tackling these demonstrators, bands of Muslim youth swarmed the main thoroughfares of the city, blocked traffic and began forcing closure of markets.

Terming the situation as 'minor sporadic violence', UP principal home secretary Alok Sinha told mediapersons, "Everything is well under control and we have sufficient police force in place to prevent any recurrence of violence."  He also maintained that the rest of the state had remained 'absolutely peaceful'.

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Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow