Strike shuts down India's Darjeeling region

By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

image captionThe unrest is likely to affect tea and tourism, mainstays of the Darjeeling economy

An indefinite strike has paralysed India's tea-producing hill region of Darjeeling in the state of West Bengal.

The strike was called by the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) party to protest against the fatal shooting of two of their members by police on Tuesday.

Police say they were forced to open fire when a mob of 3,000 GJM men turned violent and attacked them.

The GJM is leading the movement for a separate state for the Nepali-speaking Gorkhas in the Darjeeling region.

Officials said "nothing was moving in Darjeeling" because of the walkout, which began at 0600 local time (0030 GMT).

The GJM says Tuesday evening's police firing at Sibchu tea garden was "unprovoked".

"Our supporters were on a peaceful hunger strike and had taken out a rally with no violent intentions," GJM general secretary Roshan Giri said.

"The police tried to break up their rally and provoked a cycle of violence leading to the firing," he alleged.

But police said 20 people, including seven policemen, were seriously injured in the clashes that preceded the firing.

"One female guard was stabbed. Gun shots were fired at us. As the situation in Sibchu was spinning out of control, a local magistrate ordered the firing to control the crowd," police official Surojit Kar Purokayastha said.

Following the firing, mobs of GJM supporters set fire to government buildings, buses, and private cars of officials.

The Darjeeling telephone exchange and nearly 20 other government buildings were burnt down.

Officials say army, federal paramilitary troops and state armed police have been deployed in the area to control the situation.

The violence and the indefinite strike are likely to affect tea and tourism, mainstays of the Darjeeling economy.

The Gorkha campaign for a separate state started in the early 1980s but a settlement that gave them considerable autonomy brought the movement to an end in 1988.

However, three years ago, the movement was resumed by Gorkha hardliners who believe the autonomy arrangement has not worked.

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