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Jallikattu protesters held Osama Bin Laden's pictures, demanded for separate Tamil Nadu: Panneerselvam

Blaming “anti-national, anti-social and extremist elements” for infiltrating the pro-jallikattu protests and the subsequent violence in Chennai, the Tamil Nadu government said on Friday the “evil forces” that had attempted to divert the peaceful agitation would be identified and tried before law.

Chief Minister O Panneerselvam said such persons had made the students “unable to rejoice the legal steps taken for the conduct of jallikattu, for which they (the protesters) had made a contribution”. “Anti-national, anti-social and extremist elements had infiltrated the protests held by students, youth and public for the conduct of jallikattu. These persons diverted the peaceful movement, did not allow the protesters to disperse, attacked policemen and endangered public life and property by indulging in violence,” he said.

However, despite provocations like being pelted with stones and attacked by mobs, the police maintained restraint, used “minimum force” and never resorted to firing or lathicharge, the chief minister said. “I wish to point out that the police used minimum force and protected public life and property,” he added.

Panneerselvam gave a detailed statement in the Assembly, after Opposition Leader MK Stalin sought the chief minister’s response to the “lathicharge” and how the protests turned violent. He said police had received information that some of the protesters wanted to prolong the stir till Republic Day, adding that they wanted to “show black flags and create problems” on January 26, besides creating disruptions. “Some even raised separate Tamil Nadu demands and there is photographic proof of some holding pictures of Osama Bin Laden with accompanying Boycott Republic Day slogans,” Panneerselvam said, adding that many “objectionable” remarks were also made.

He assured the House that the “evil forces” behind the violence would be identified and action taken against them. The chief minister, who said the jallikattu ban was implemented in 2011 during the days of the UPA, in which the DMK was a constituent, also recalled the sustained efforts of his predecessor, late J Jayalalithaa, and himself for the conduct of the bull-taming sport in the state.

He also explained in detail the circumstances leading to the state government issuing an ordinance last week, following his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during which the latter promised the Centre’s support to the state’s legal endeavours on the issue. Panneerselvam said one of the pro-jallikattu voices, musician ‘Hip-Hop Tamizha’ Aadhi, had expressed anguish over unwanted elements entering the protest and insulting the national flag.

He said after the police had received information of such elements infiltrating the protests, they had asked the protesters at Marina on January 23 to disperse. While about 10,000 of them paid heed to the police advice, around 2,000 people stayed back and continued with the protests, he added.

At this juncture, an unlawful mob tried to break the police barriers near Ice House and was dispersed by the cops, who had been attacked with stones, by employing “minimum force” and firing tear gas shells, the chief minister said. Another such mob attacked the Ice House police station with petrol-filled bottles, which led to a fire that destroyed some items at the station and two four-wheelers, 31 two-wheelers and one auto-rickshaw parked outside, he added.

At Nadukuppam, the miscreants tried to proceed to Marina and when asked by the police to retreat, they attacked them with stones and petrol-filled bottles, causing severe damage to property including vehicles, Panneerselvam said, adding that the police used “minimum force” to disperse them as well. Attacks on the policemen and their vehicles were also reported from other localities like Zam Bazaar, Poonamallee High Road, Erukkanchery Main Road and Vadapalani, he said. The metro rail station at Arumbakkam came under an attack of such rioters who also set a state-run liquor shop on fire, the chief minister added.

A total of 12,500 people staged road roko across 76 locations in the city protesting police action against the anti-social elements, he said. A total of 142 police personnel and 138 protesters were injured in various incidents in Chennai that day and many of them were still undergoing treatment, he added.

Scores of police, Fire and Rescue Services, government and public vehicles were damaged in the violence, Panneerselvam said, adding that a total of 66 cases have been registered and 215 people arrested in this regard. Giving details of the protests in other parts of Tamil Nadu, he said the rail roko staged by the agitators in Madurai had crippled the train services between Chennai and the southern parts of the state.

Over 50 people, including police personnel, were injured while a number of vehicles suffered damage in stone-pelting incidents, the chief minister added. During the entire duration of the protests, the police took “maximum care” to maintain peace and uphold law and order, Panneerselvam said.

On political parties’ allegations of “police excesses” during the violence, the chief minister, who holds the Home portfolio, said the accusations would be probed and action taken if they were proved to be true. Recalling the initial stages of the protests, he said besides two of his cabinet colleagues holding talks with the protesters last week, he himself had spoken to them before leaving for Delhi to meet Modi to seek an ordinance for the conduct of jallikattu.

After the prime minister’s assurance of the Centre’s support to Tamil Nadu’s legal efforts, he had stayed back in Delhi and held consultations, which led to the state deciding on issuing an ordinance, the draft of which was prepared there itself to be sent to the Centre and also for Presidential assent, Panneerselvam said.

The chief minister recalled that he had promised to move a bill in the Assembly on January 23 itself to replace the ordinance and amend the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. However, the protesters later started pressing for a “permanent solution” as also for a ban on animal rights NGO PETA and did not withdraw their protests, he said. Issues of a ban on foreign trade and inter-state water disputes like Cauvery and Mullaperiyar also started coming up among the protesters, Panneerselvam said.