Patna: Maoists blew up a mobile tower and set ablaze a bus on Thursday in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district to enforce a 24-hour strike called by them to protest the acquittal of 26 men convicted for the 1997 Laxmanpur-Bathe massacre, police said.

Bihar Police have alerted all the districts affected by Maoists, particularly those bordering Jharkhand, and asked for extra vigil at all police stations in rural areas considered to be their stronghold, Additional Director General of Police Ravinder Kumar said here.

According to police officials in Muzaffarpur, about 70km from here, armed Maoists torched a private bus and blew up a mobile tower. No casualty was reported.

Muzaffarpur in north Bihar is one of the areas worst affected by the Maoists.

Police have intensified combing operations across the state and additional security forces have been deployed at public places.

“The state police headquarters has directed all superintendent of police to be on high alert and increase vigilance on soft targets like railway tracks and government installations across the state,” he said.

The Maoists’ strike call evoked mixed response in the state as normal life was hit in some rural areas but urban areas were largely unaffected.

“Fear of Maoists forced closure of rural area markets in Gaya, Aurangabad, Arwal, Jehanabad and other districts. Vehicles stayed off roads and common people suffered,” a police official said.

Police officials admitted that life in some rural pockets, known as Maoist strongholds, was paralysed, as neither shops nor banks opened.

Despite the police deployment and the administration’s promise of security cover, shopkeepers downed their shutters and stayed home.

Maoists spokesperson Prahar said the court was forced to acquit the 26 accused in the 1997 Laxmanpur-Bathe massacre case due to dilution of the cases by the state government.

Citing lack of evidence, the Patna High Court acquitted the 26 people. Of these, 16 were earlier sentenced to death and 10 had been awarded life imprisonment in 2010 by the additional district and sessions judge of the Patna civil court.

Ranvir Sena men had allegedly carried out the massacre on December 1, 1997. According to police, charges were framed on December 23, 2008, against 44 men of the Ranvir Sena for killing the Dalits, including 27 women and 10 children.

Laxmanpur-Bathe, on the banks of the Sone river in Jehanabad district, was targeted by armed Ranvir Sena men.

According to police records, four Dalit families were completely wiped out in the bloodbath.

The state government has already decided to appeal against the high court verdict.

The families of the massacre victims also expressed disappointment over the acquittals.