A road blockade in Orissa launched by hundreds of people, demanding the immediate release of some villagers, has paralysed traffic along national highway number 23 in mineral rich Sundergarh district, police said on Wednesday.
The protesters, mostly tribals, have blocked the road near Chandiposh village, some 60 km from the steel city of Rourkela and about 575 km from Bhubaneswar, since Tuesday. They are demanding the release of 30 villagers who were arrested as suspected Maoists from villages under Chandiposh gram panchayat on August 29, he said.
"Hundred of vehicles have got stranded owing to the blockade. Mineral transportation has also been affected," a senior district police official told IANS.
Police claim to have evidence that the arrested villagers were involved in several crimes, including the murder of a police officer in the region on July 16, but the protesters say the accused are innocent.
"None of the arrested people was involved in any kind of Maoist activities," human rights activist Prafulla Samantray told IANS. "Most of the arrested people are daily wage earners. As they languish in jail, their families are facing hunger."
Local legislator George Tirkey said: "Police do not have the courage to arrest the real Maoists. They are making innocent villagers scapegoats to save their own skin."
One of the protesters said: "We want the immediate release of the arrested people. The road blockade will end only after their release."