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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 April, 2005, 11:49 GMT 12:49 UK
Book arson 'a Taleban-style' act
By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

Fire at Central Library, Imphal, Manipur
Police say that a group of around 50 protesters started the fire (Pics: David Manohar Mayum )
Officials of a prestigious library in India's north-eastern state of Manipur say nearly 145,000 books have been destroyed in an arson attack.

Protesters demanding the introduction of Manipur's ancient Mayek script set fire to the Central Library in Manipur's capital Imphal on Wednesday.

Officials say many of Manipur's most ancient texts were among the books destroyed by the fire.

The arsonists want the Mayek script to replace Bengali script in the state.

'Incalculable loss'

Historian Gangumei Kamei said the loss of so many books was "an incalculable loss" to Manipur's heritage.

Prominent lawyer Koteswar Singh described the burning as a "Taleban-style act".

Police say that a group of nearly 50 protesters started the fire. They say they came from two groups.

The first is a regional group, Mayek Erol Evek Loinasillon Apunba Lup (Meelal) - or the United Forum for Safeguarding Manipuri Script and Language.

For several months it has been demanding the introduction of Manipur's ancient Mayek script, and the abolition of Bengali script that has been used for the last three centuries to write the Meitei language.

The second organisation is a separatist rebel group, Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP) which has called for a week's strike in support of the Meelal's demands.

Fire engine at Central Library, Imphal, Manipur
Precious works of literature have been destroyed

Local residents say the police and fire engines arrived after the entire building had been gutted by the blaze.

Earlier this month, Manipur's vernacular newspaper editors agreed to print their broadsheets in both Bengali and Mayek scripts under pressure from Meelal and groups supporting them.

But the state government insists that it will only introduce Mayek gradually, because its sudden introduction could cause problems for a generation of Manipuris who are not familiar with the ancient script.

Analysts say that has upset Meelal and groups like the KCP. They say the library was burnt because almost all Manipuri books preserved in it were written in Bengali script.

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