Chennai/Tirupati | Protests erupted in Tamil Nadu today over the controversial gunning down of 20 people, many of them woodcutters from the state, on charges of red sanders smuggling in the forests near Tirupati but the Andhra Pradesh government maintained that it was an encounter during which the police was attacked.
Political parties and rights groups condemned the incident as a violation of human rights saying the woodcutters, in search of jobs, were picked up from a bus and killed in cold blood.
They demanded a probe independent of the AP government and by a Supreme Court judge.
Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu government announced a solatium of Rs three lakh each to the kin of labourers who were killed yesterday in the police action.
National Human Rights Council (NHRC) chairman Justice K G Balakrishnan said in Delhi that the Council will examine whether the ‘encounter’ was genuine or fake. AP Chief Secretary and DGP have been issued notices on the incident.
He said while the police will justify the incident, initial reports said that those killed were unarmed.
With protests emanating from across the border, Andhra Pradesh government’s media advisor Parakala Prabhakar maintained that it was an encounter in which smugglers attacked policemen with sickles, stones and axes.
It was purely as a self-defence our forces opened fire when they were outnumbered by the smugglers. Previously we had lost 6 brilliant officers at the hands of smugglers, he said refuting allegations that they were shot from the close range and in cold blood.
He also dismissed charges that the woodcutters were picked up from a bus and killed in captivity.
A team of Tamil Nadu revenue and police officials have been sent to Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh to bring back the bodies of those killed.
Bus services to and from Andhra Pradesh were suspended by both the Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh State transport corporations with a posse of police personnel deployed in bus stations following stone pelting incidents.
Protest demonstrations continued across the state, with PMK chief Dr S Ramadoss alleging that this (encounter) was pre-planned and there was enough evidence to prove this.
Since the killings are pre-planned, it is not fair for Andhra Pradesh to probe it. The probe should be done by a sitting Supreme Court judge, he said.
The issue should also be taken to the notice of President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the victims’ kin should get justice, he added.
Fringe outfits like Naam Tamilar Katchi and others staged agitations in front of Andhra Bank here and establishments with AP links.
Speaking to reporters in Tirupati, AP Revenue officials said they have made all arrangements to ensure that bodies are promptly handed over to the kin of those killed.
Hearse vans of the TN Health Department have also been sent to AP to bring back the bodies, the government said.
Students of the Government Vellore Law College staged protests on the Vellore-Chittoor Road.
Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi cadres blocked a train in Walajah Road railway junction near Vellore and 50 men were detained by police.
Scores of advocates staged protests in several towns, including Mayiladuthrai and Tirunelveli.
Tamil Maanila Congress chief G K Vasan said people suspected ulterior motive in the killings and said only a probe could establish if it was a staged encounter.
Minister of State for Shipping, Pon Radhakrishnan said, I feel that it is an absolute necessity to find out the real reasons for their killings from Andhra Pradesh police, adding that only lawful measures like prosecution should be pursued in handling all issues.
Puthiya Tamilagam chief Krishnasamy said it was important to bring to book the kingpins of the smuggling ring.
A senior police official said that the process of identifying those killed yesterday was almost complete and they hailed from districts, including Tiruvannamalai and Vellore.
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