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Police patrol deserted Bengaluru streets after Facebook post sparks clashes

BENGALURU (Reuters) - Baton-wielding police patrolled barricaded and deserted streets in parts of the southern Indian tech hub of Bengaluru on Wednesday, after three people were killed in overnight clashes triggered by a Facebook post offensive to Muslims.

The violence began late on Tuesday, with mobs pelting stones, burning vehicles and setting a police station on fire, and lasted until the early hours of Wednesday. Dozens of people were wounded.

“Seeing that much fire, smoke and the violence was really scary. I was really frightened. We’ve only seen such things on TV,” said Ahan Khan, a college student who lives near the police station in northeast Bengaluru.

Police said the person responsible for the offensive post, which has since been deleted, had been arrested. A spokesman for Facebook said it was investigating, adding its standards prohibit hate speech and incitement to violence.

Bengaluru Police Commissioner Kamal Pant said his officers had initially tried to hold back around 1,000 protesters using batons and tear gas, but then opened fire.

“The police had no escape and they had to resort to firing and three people died,” Pant said, adding that 110 people had been arrested for alleged vandalism and attacking the police.

The three victims were Muslim men aged between 19 and 21, said Rizwan Arshad, a Congress party lawmaker in Bengaluru, who reached the police station amid the violence on Tuesday night to appeal for calm.

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A medical officer at the government-run Bowring hospital said they had treated at least 27 injured policemen and 12 protesters, including three who had suffered gunshot wounds.

A police official said an emergency law prohibiting gatherings had been imposed in Bengaluru, a city of 12 million people known as India’s Silicon Valley.

Police gave the first name of the accused man as Naveen, and said he was the nephew of a Congress politician, whose house was attacked and burnt in the violence.

The politician, R. Akhanda Srinivasa Murthy, appealed for calm in a video message carried by media.

“We’re all brothers. Whatever crime has been committed, let the law teach them a lesson,” Murthy said. “I appeal to our Muslim brothers and everyone else to maintain peace.”

Television channels on Tuesday night showed a group of people gathered outside a police station, clashing with officers and burning several police vehicles.

On Wednesday afternoon, charred remains of several cars and motorcycles were strewn across the basement parking lot of D.J. Halli police station, the facade of which was also scarred by fire.

Nearby streets were lined with burnt vehicles, with all shops shuttered along the nearly two-km stretch where the police station is located.

“We are investigating the issue and will make use of the CCTV footage to see who is behind these violent acts, and will take stringent actions,” said Basavraj Bommai, home minister of Karnataka state, where Bengaluru is located.

Reporting by Bhargav Acharya and Nivedita Bhattacharjee in Bengaluru, Sankalp Phartiyal in New Delhi; Writing by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Dan Grebler, Simon Cameron-Moore and Nick Macfie

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