February 19, 2009 / 8:06 PM / 10 years ago

Lawyers torch police station in southern India

CHENNAI, India, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Lawyers set fire to a police station in southern India and 20 police were injured in clashes on Thursday after the arrest of legal counsel sympathetic to Sri Lankan rebels, police said.

In a standoff lasting several hours in Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu state where some sympathise with the Sri Lankan rebels, police baton-charged the lawyers in a court complex and fired teargas.

The lawyers retaliated by throwing stones at police, setting fire to police motorbikes and later to the police station.

It was the latest incident related to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in an Indian state where the fight for an independent homeland for Tamils in Sri Lanka remains a sensitive issue.

The violence followed the arrest of pro-LTTE lawyers in connection with an assault on a local politician who had demanded the extradition of a top rebel leader.

The Sri Lankan army has now cornered the rebels in a wedge of jungle measuring just 87 square km (34 sq miles) as Asia’s longest-running civil war nears an end.

Reports of large civilian casualties caught in the crossfire have sparked several protests in Tamil Nadu.

Tamil Nadu was a key swing state in the last elections five years ago, and is said to have tipped the balance of power in favour of the ruling Congress-led coalition.

On Tuesday, a group of pro-LTTE lawyers burst into a court to assault and throw rotten eggs at a leader of a local party, Subramanian Swamy.

Swamy had demanded the extradition of a top LTTE leader for his alleged involvement in the assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

“Violence broke out when police arrested two lawyers wanted for the assault on Dr Swamy before they could get pre-arrest bail,” Chennai Police Commissioner P Radhakrishnan told reporters.

Gandhi was killed by the LTTE during an election campaign in 1991 after his unsuccessful attempt to intervene in Sri Lanka’s civil war, which has been fought on-and-off since 1983. (Editing by Matthias Williams and Charles Dick)

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