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Hundreds of protesters defied prohibitory orders and attempted to lay siege to chief minister N Biren Singh’s ancestral home in Imphal on Thursday evening but were thwarted by security forces as tensions simmered in the northeastern state over the killings of two Meitei students.
A mob of around 500 people attempted to storm Singh’s vacant, ancestral home in Imphal’s Heingang locality, a day after an attempt was made to vandalise the residence of state BJP chief A Sharda Devi in Imphal.
Security officials on the ground in Manipur said in the evening, a crowd of around 500 people tried to go near Singh’s personal residence at Luwangsangbam in Heingang. “But they were stopped more than 200-300 metres away from the CM’s house. Tear gas shells had to be fired because the crowd tried to gather on the spot from different directions. By around 9.15 in the evening, the crowd was dispersed,” said a security official aware of the development.
The official added that when the mob continued to move towards the direction of the CM’s house, electricity was also snapped by the authorities. “News of CM’s personal residence being mobbed is false and misleading. Adequate security is in place,” Manipur Police posted on X.
Protests have raged in Manipur over the killing of a 20-year-old man and a 17-year-old girl who went missing two months ago. Earlier this week, photographs of their apparently lifeless bodies went viral on social media.
The 20-year-old man and the 17-year-old girl – both residents of Imphal – were last seen together on July 6. Manipur Police said an initial probe revealed that the missing duo may have got trapped in an area dominated by the Kuki community while fleeing, after which they were allegedly abducted and murdered. The probe also revealed that a day after the two went missing, a new SIM card was inserted in the man’s mobile phone that was activated in Lamdan, a Kuki-dominated area, on July 7, a police officer said, asking not to be named.
On September 25, two days after the state government restored internet services, photos of the couple surfaced on social media. One showed them sitting on the ground in what appears to be a forest with two armed men in the background, and another showed them apparently lying dead on the ground. The man’s head appeared to be missing in the photograph and the woman’s face is not visible. The two were wearing the same clothes as seen in the first photograph. Their faces are not visible in the second photograph. HT could not independently verify the authenticity of the photos.
Hours after the photos went viral on social media and stoked unrest, the state government suspended mobile internet and data services through VPN for five days on Tuesday evening.
“On Thursday, two groups of people came from different directions and approached the CM’s ancestral residence but they were stopped,” a second police officer told news agency PTI.
The authorities switched off electricity in the entire area to help reduce visibility. More barricades were erected as protestors burnt tyres on roads.
Officials quoted above said that a new group identified as the Youth of Manipur led the protests in Imphal. “The YOM made two demands. They want the killers of the two Meitei students to be arrested without any delay. They also want all MLAs of Manipur to visit Delhi, meet the central leadership and find a concrete solution to the crisis,” said a third official.
On Thursday afternoon, a meeting of all top officials of paramilitary forces and Manipur Police was held against the backdrop of allegations by civil society groups that security forces were using excessive force. Manipur Police said in a statement that while the forces met to discuss law and order situation, the officers were also apprised of the injuries of students as well as security personnel. “The forces discussed to use minimum force in dealing with public especially students,” the statement said.
Tensions between the majority Meiteis, who mostly live in Imphal valley, and tribal Kuki ethnic groups resurged after photos emerged earlier this week of two students, 17-year-old Luwangbi Linthoingambi Hijam and 20-year-old Phijam Hemanjit before and after they were killed purportedly by militants.
Since the violence first erupted on May 3, more than 180 people have been killed and over 50,000 have fled their homes in Manipur.
More than half the state’s population of 3.2 million belongs to the Meitei community, while the Kuki community, who make up about 43%, live mostly in the hills.
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