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Social activist Swami Agnivesh and media persons accompanying him were Saturday assaulted by some people, suspected to be special police officers (SPOs), in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district while they were on way to a forested area where policemen had allegedly burnt down over 200 huts of tribals. Top district officials were transferred after the incident.

Dozens of people, including women, stopped Agnivesh’s vehicle at Dornapal town, pulled him out, manhandled him and threw eggs at him and abused him, witnesses told IANS.

Agnivesh termed it “a stage-managed attack as police wanted to hide facts about brutalities on civilians in Tarmetla”.

Sources said that besides SPOs, the cadres of Salwa Judum – a civil militia movement launched in 2005 to counter leftist insurgency – were brought from various areas to Dornapal to stop Agnivesh reaching the tribal villages hit by the police rampage.

Chief Minister Raman Singh reportedly expressed strong displeasure over the attack and ordered the shifting of District Collector R. Prasanna and Dantewada’s Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) S.R.P. Kalluri.

Prasanna has been appointed as commissioner, Raipur Municipal Corporation, while Kalluri was asked to rush to Surguja. Ankit Garg has been appointed as the new police chief of Dantewada while O.P. Chaudhary is the new district collector.

Witnesses said a few media persons accompanying Agnivesh were also roughed up by the protesters who took away their cameras and abused them as well. The protesters blocked the National Highway 221 in a bid to stop Agnivesh from proceeding further.

Sources at Dornapal, over 450 km from Raipur, said the protest was managed by SPOs on instructions of some senior police officials to stop the social activist who was determined to visit three tribal hamlets in interiors of the district where people had allegedly suffered police brutalities recently.

Sources said that Agnivesh had informed the chief minister over telephone before reaching Chhattisgarh regarding his scheduled trip to the villages.

The protesters had grilled Agnivesh and asked him to explain why he rushed to Chhattisgarh on information of houses being allegedly burnt though he hardly ever visited areas that witnessed civilian killings by Maoists.

Agnivesh tried to explain that he had also condemned the killings by Maoists but the protesters did not allow him to proceed to Tarmetla and its nearby areas where tribal civilians have accused police of killing and raping a few people besides burning down at least 200 huts.

The district authorities have sent relief material and rations to the affected villages and have also distributed cash among the victims.

The three forested villages where local poor tribes are spending nights under the sky after their houses were burnt in atrocities over three days and ended March 16.

The place is close to the site where the rebels massacred 76 policemen, included 75 of the para-military Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), in April last year which is the biggest ever casualty suffered by police in a single attack by the Maoists.

A magisterial inquiry has been ordered and a four-member panel has been set up to go into the charges of the villagers. Before his transfer, Kalluri maintained that “the whole act of house burning is nothing but a pure Maoist propaganda”.

Dantewada district is part of the state’s 40,000 sq km southern tip that is called the Bastar region, in whose interiors Maoists have monopoly since the late 1980s.

Officials at the police headquarters here said that over 2,000 people have been killed in leftist insurgency, including 50 percent civilians, since Chhattisgarh came into existence in November 2000.

The outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) has planned to cash in on the alleged police excesses against tribal civilians and announced Saturday that it will observe protest days followed by a total shutdown in Chhattisgarh against the incident next month.

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