Police, lawyers clash outside Madras High Court (Lead)

February 20th, 2009 - 12:51 am ICT by IANS  

Chennai, Feb 19 (IANS) What started as an argument between an angry lawyer and a police officer in the Madras High Court Thursday afternoon soon turned into violent clashes, creating a crisis for Tamil Nadu’s three-year-old DMK government.
While a three-member Division Bench headed by acting Chief Justice S. Mukhopadhyay recommended an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), from his sick bed, Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi offered to personally apologise to all concerned to defuse the situation, officials said.

An angry opposition called for the dismissal of the DMK government and immediate transfer and suspension of the top officials including the state’s chief secretary, Director General of Police K.P. Jain and city police commissioner K. Radhakrishnan, according to statements issued by Leader of Opposition J. Jayalalitha, PMK founder S. Ramadoss and other leaders including those of the Left.

Pitched battles between lawyers and police personnel were witnessed in the court premises for several hours after an altercation between K. Rajnikant, an advocate who was to be arrested, and the police suddenly turned violent, according to conflicting versions from eyewitnesses.

Police officials contended that a section of agitated lawyers demanding the arrest of Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy on the basis of their complaint pelted stones at policemen - a charge denied by the Madras High Court Advocates’ Association president S. Prabhakaran.

Over 50 lawyers and A.P. Adityan, a sitting judge of the high court, 20 policemen, dozens of bystanders and two journalists were injured in the melee, officials, lawyers and witnesses said.

Police burst tear gas shells and cane-charged advocates to bring the situation under control.

TV footage showed policemen and lawyers alike breaking windscreens of private vehicles parked inside the court compound. Police said protesters damaged 12 government buses.

A police station in the vicinity was set afire.

It all began two days ago when a few lawyers threw eggs at Swamy, in the presence of a Division Bench comprising judges P.K. Mishra and K. Chandru, at his “anti-Sri Lankan Tamil stand” when he appeared in a minor court matter concerning the takeover of the Chidambaram Nataraja temple.

Upon Swamy’s oral plea, the judges suo motu ordered police to arrest “those who had brought disrepute to the court”.

Police arrested a lawyer, N. Emanuel, earlier Thursday and all hell broke loose when they tried arresting 16 others against whom cases had been registered.

Lawyers in the high court’s Madurai Bench and several districts resorted to violence too and began sit-in protests demanding action against alleged police highhandedness.

Trouble had been brewing for over a month after a senior advocate had been assaulted in front of another Division Bench Jan 28 by other lawyers who had announced a boycott in protest against “inaction by the central and state government” in the Sri Lankan Tamils’ tangle.

Judges felt that “lawlessness within court premises” and ceaseless sufferings of litigants were taking an ugly shape even as Congress-affiliated advocates demanded the court’s intervention through special mentions apprehending danger in the court.

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