The Madras high court on Thursday asked authorities to ensure that bodies of six woodcutters killed in Andhra Pradesh are not cremated till Friday.
Tension prevailed as the next of kin of two of the 20 woodcutters, alleged to be red sanders smugglers gunned down in Andhra Pradesh, on Thursday staged protests in Tiruvannamalai district by placing the bodies on the road seeking justice as protests over the killings continued for the third day across the State.
While 12 woodcutters hail from Tiruvanamalai district, seven are from Dharmapuri and one from Salem.
Red sanders or red sandalwood is a protected species of tree grown in at least four districts of Andhra Pradesh. The trees are in short supply and fetch thousands of dollars on the international black market.
Demand is high in countries such as China and Japan, where the wood is used to make furniture, musical instruments and even toys.
Tension gripped Padavedu in Tiruvannamalai district when relatives of slain Sasikumar and Murugan staged protests by placing the bodies on road. They sought a probe and enhanced solatium.
A scuffle broke out between police and the relatives as they refused to take away the bodies for cremation. District authorities were trying to persuade them to remove the bodies.
A petition was f
iled in the Madras high court seeking a fresh post-mortem for one of those killed.
Protests continued in several parts of the state including Arakkonam, Hosur and Chennai against the Andhra Pradesh police operations on Tuesday.
A group of advocates of Madras HC burnt effigies of Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu and said he should also be included as one of the main accused, besides demanding a CBI probe into the incident.
A Tamil outfit ransacked a retail chain store here, the founder chairman of which is Naidu. Police have detained two in connection with the incident.
Allegations came thick and fast that Andhra Pradesh police pulled out seven out of a bus and then killed them at point blank range, later dubbing it as "encounter".
"Seven poor labourers were pulled out of a bus on TN-AP border on Monday and they were among those who were later gunned down," said Tamil rights activist and coordinator of May 17 Movement Thirumurugan Gandhi.
"These are brutal murders," he said adding "justice is what we need for those killed and their families."
Raja Babu, a native of Kannamangalam in Tiruvannamalai District in Tamil Nadu too alleged that seven men from his village were taken into custody and then shot dead by Andhra Pradesh police while one managed to escape.
Of the eight woodcutters on the bus, seven were allegedly taken away by AP police, and they did not notice the eighth person, an elderly man seated in another row of seats along with a woman, Babu claimed.
The Andhra Pradesh government has dismissed the charge of a fake encounter, contending that policet had fired in self-defence.
"It was an incident where the police had to open fire in self-defence because they were terribly outnumbered," the government's communication adviser, Parakala Prabhakar, said on Wednesday.
The Supreme Court Thursday was urged to take suo motu cognisance of the killings.
Andhra Pradesh Police said they shot dead the 20 'smugglers' after being attacked with sickles and other weapons in two places in the Seshachalam forest.