Sikkim, June 15: Cops have arrested nine persons in connection with the burning of an effigy of former India football captain Bhaichung Bhutia at Namchi in South Sikkim district in violation of the lockdown in force in the state, an official said on Monday.

We arrested nine persons from Namchi town and released them on bail. We are searching for some more people involved in the incident and they too will be arrested soon,” South Sikkim’s Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Thakur Thapa said.

Thakur said the accused persons said to be the members of the Dakshin Sikkim Nari Sangh and had held a protest march in Namchi town last week in violation of the lockdown in place in view of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the state.

The protesters, all of the women had taken out a protest march against the former India Captain’s reported opposition to the construction of a 300-bed hospital at the cost of Rs 500 crore in Namchi town for which Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang had laid a foundation stone last month.

The protesting women had raised slogans like ‘Bhaichung Bhutia murdabaad‘ before setting his effigy on fire in protest against his opposition to the hospital project.

Bhaichung Bhutia, who is on a commentary assignment for Euro Football Championship had released a video message condemning the burning of his effigy in South Sikkim, his native district, at a time when restrictions were in place to prevent the gathering of the people in view of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has claimed more than 280 lives in the state.

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The protests against him and his effigy burning took place in a marketplace in Namchi in violation of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, which was imposed to prevent the gathering of the people,” he said in the video message.

The 44-year-old Bhutia clarified that he had never opposed the hospital project per se, but opined that the state government could have used the resources and funds to contain the pandemic now and built the hospital later on.

Bhutia, who is also the working President of the Hamro Sikkim Party (HSP), had slammed the misplaced priorities of the Prem Singh Tamang government at a time when the government has been “unable” to bring the pandemic under control.