November 21, 2007 / 9:05 AM / 11 years ago

Riots in India's Kolkata over industry-farm row

KOLKATA, Nov 21 (Reuters) - Riot police fired tear gas to disperse violent protesters in the eastern city of Kolkata on Wednesday as fresh trouble broke out in a political row over the killing of villagers opposed to surrendering land for industry.

The protesters, mostly Muslims, hurled stones, shattered windshields of cars and buses and blocked traffic in downtown Kolkata, witnesses said.

At least 30 vehicles had been damaged, some of them set on fire, and several protesters and policemen were injured, police said.

"We are trying to bring things under control, there seems to be trouble everywhere," said Jawed Shamim, a top city police officer.

State officials said they might ask the army to help quell the clashes if the violence escalated.

West Bengal, of which Kolkata is the capital, has been roiled by weeks of protests against the killing of villagers in Nandigram by suspected communist cadres in a turf battle that began earlier this year.

West Bengal’s ruling communists, who are allies of India’s federal coalition government, lost control of Nandigram earlier this year after trying, unsuccessfully, to get villagers to vacate their land to make way for a chemicals complex.

Local opposition parties and Maoist rebels moved in, and the area became a no-go zone for communists and police alike.

This month, communist party cadres forced their way back in. At least six villagers were killed in the violence, bringing the death toll to at least 34 killed so far this year. Several women have alleged they were raped by communist cadres.

The latest trouble came after a two-day strike this week over the issue in West Bengal and its neighbouring state of Bihar, during which Maoist rebels blew up railway tracks, disrupted train services and blocked highways. The All India Minority Forum, which called Wednesday’s protests, said their demonstration was also aimed against West Bengal giving refuge to a controversial Bangladeshi Muslim woman author accused of criticising Islam in her books.

"It was a peaceful protest. I don’t know how this turned violent. We are clueless," said Idris Ali, chief of the forum. (Additional reporting by Bappa Majumdar; writing by Y.P. Rajesh)

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