Widespread stone-pelting, sporadic incidents of violence in Kerala following PFI bandh call

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Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala on Friday witnessed widespread stone-pelting at public transport buses, damaging of shops and vehicles and sporadic incidents of violence in many places during the statewide dawn-to-dusk hartal called by radical Islamic outfit Popular Front of India (PFI).

The PFI called the hartal to protest against the raids in the offices and residences of its leaders and their subsequent arrests on Thursday by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and other agencies for allegedly supporting terror activities in the country.

The hartal supporters took out protest marches, blocked the vehicles and forcefully downed the shutters of shops in various places, where the outfit has a strong presence.

Besides police personnel, some bus and lorry drivers and commuters suffered injuries in stone-pelting and other related incidents.

The Kerala High Court on Friday took a case on its own over PFI’s hartal and subsequent sporadic incidents of violence in the state.

The court said holding hartals were banned by it earlier and the destruction of public property cannot be accepted.

The court also directed the state administration to take stern action against those who violate the court order banning hartals.

In Erattupetta town of Kottayam district, police had to resort to lathicharge to disperse hartal supporters when they tried to block the vehicles after gathering in large numbers.

Hundreds of PFI activists were reportedly detained at local police stations as a precautionary measure, sources said.

More police personnel were deployed in and around the town as tension continued to prevail in the area.

A hartal supporter allegedly hit two police personnel, who were on patrolling duty, with his bike when they tried to stop him from abusing commuters at Pallimukku in Kollam.

Though he managed to escape from the spot, a manhunt was on to nab him, police said.

A lottery shop, kept open at Sankranthi Kavala in Kottayam, was destroyed by the hartal supporters while some freight lorries, which were on their way from Mangaluru, were stopped and their keys were snatched by them on a national highway in Kannur which blocked traffic in the area.

Local media reported that a petrol bomb was hurled at a vehicle which was carrying newspapers for distribution at Narayanpara in Kannur in the morning.

Stones were pelted at Kerala State Road Transport Corporation buses in almost all districts including Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Kozhikode, Wayanad, and Alappuzha.

However, Transport Minister Antony Raju said there was no move to stop the services in the wake of widespread attacks against the buses.

A lorry driver, who was on his way to Erode in Tamil Nadu, suffered severe injuries on his nose and eyes after the hartal supporters hurled stones and broke the glass of his vehicle in Kozhikode.

“They attacked us deliberately with an intention to destroy the lorry. The vehicle was parked on the roadside when they came and attacked it,” he said.

As soon as the PFI called for a hartal on Thursday, the state police chief had given directions to beef up security across Kerala and to take stern action against those who violate the law.

The PFI on Thursday had called for a hartal in the state on Friday “against the RSS-controlled fascist government’s attempt to silence dissenting voices using the central agencies”.

The hartal would be observed from 6 am to 6 pm, PFI state general secretary A Abdul Sathar had said in the statement.