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State capital under curfew amid violence; Home Minister resigns

In response to violent clashes in Shillong sparked by police encounter with a former militant, Meghalaya Home Minister Lahkmen Rymbui has stepped down, officials said. Following the ‘killing’ of a former militant leader on Friday, Shillong and its outskirts were under curfew for 33 hours, and internet services were suspended in four Meghalaya districts, according to officials. Independence Day celebration was held in a very low-key manner due to the series of incidents in Shillong and its outskirts.

According to a police official, the protesters who marched with black flags on Sunday, accused police of ‘killing in the name of an encounter’ militant outfit Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council’s former general secretary Chesterfield Thangkhiew on Friday. On Sunday afternoon, a mob attacked security forces and set ablaze a police vehicle belonging to the Mawkynroh Police Outpost in Jaiaw. The Mawkynroh Outpost Officer-in-Charge-as well as other police personnel on the vehicle managed to escape.

It is reported that protesters seized the weapons of fleeing policemen. Stone peltings were observed in Shillong and some other parts of Meghalaya. In spite of the rainy weather, a large crowd gathered at the residence of the slain HNLC ex-leader at the Mawlai area of Shillong on Sunday afternoon, while many people stood on terraces and top floors of their houses holding placards in solidarity. Various parts of the city and its outskirts were also occupied by protestors on motorcycles and other vehicles.

Shillong and 13 nearby areas will be under a total curfew from 8.30 pm on Sunday to 10.30 am on Tuesday, as ordered by Magistrate Isawanda Laloo. According to reports, there have been several incidents of stone-pelting, arson, theft, and a serious breakdown of law and order in parts of Shillong, and it is likely that there will be more incidents resulting in loss of life or property. State Home Secretary C.V.D. Diengdoh, in a subsequent order, discontinued telecommunication service for 48 hours in East Khasi Hills, West Khasi Hills, South West Khasi Hills and Ri-Bhoi Districts.

In an order, Diengdoh said that in order to prevent misuse of text messaging services such as SMS, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, the telecommunication services were suspended. On Friday, the ‘encounter’ came three days after the HNLC set off an IED in Shillong’s Laitumkhrah market area, injuring two people, including a woman, and damaging nearby buildings. The banned HNLC had admitted responsibility for the IED blast.

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Investigations into the incidents have revealed drugs addicts and over-ground employees of the outlawed HNLC were involved in nefarious activities. Thangkhiew was a founding member of the HNLC before surrendering to the government in 2018. Meghalaya Human Rights Commission (MHRC) has also taken suo moto notice of his death and has requested the state’s chief secretary to submit a detailed report on the incident within 15 days, failing which the commission will conduct an investigation.

The main opposition Congress has also previously demanded that the MHRC look into the circumstances surrounding Thangkhiew’s ‘encounter-style’ killing. Ampareen Lyngdoh, the state’s general secretary and former minister, said in a statement: ‘Serious allegations are being made by citizens about the police operation that resulted in the death of a surrendered militant. An independent inquiry by the MHRC is needed to determine the truth from both the police and the victim’s family’.

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