One killed as Punjab burns over Vienna gurdwara clash (Third Lead)

May 25th, 2009 - 6:39 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh Jalandhar/New Delhi, May 25 (IANS) One person was killed and eight others injured as Punjab continued to be on the boil Monday with trains burnt and key highways blocked after violent protests by the followers of the Dera Sachh Khand, opposing the attack on their sect leaders in the Austrian capital Vienna.
Armed with sticks, swords, bricks and stones, sect followers came out in large numbers in Punjab’s Doaba belt and tension spread in Jalandhar, Phagwara and Hoshiarpur towns. Jalandhar was placed under curfew Sunday night and army and para-military forces were requisitioned by the administration.

The police had to resort to force at some places to disperse the protestors.

Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal confirmed that one person was killed and eight others were injured in police firing on the protestors in Jalandhar city Monday.

Curfew was also imposed in the industrial hub of Ludhiana following violence by protesters, who are from the Dalit Sikh community and followers of Guru Ravidass, after a senior sect leader died of injuries sustained in a clash in the Vienna gurudwara Sunday.

Sect leader Sant Rama Nand, 57, the second-in-command, died in a hospital in the Austrian capital Vienna early Monday, following an armed attack involving rival Sikh groups at a gurudwara the previous day. The attack also left at least 16 people injured.

The condition of the sect head Sant Niranjan Dass, 68, who was the second guest speaking at the Vienna gurudwara, was stable after undergoing emergency surgery, doctors in Vienna said.

Curfew was also imposed by the district authorities in Hoshiarpur town, 150 km from Chandigarh.

Protests also spread to neighbouring Haryana where sect followers blocked with trees the Chandigarh-Delhi National Highway No.1 near the Kingfisher resort.

The Delhi-Lahore bus service was stopped at a police station by authorities in Punjab’s Ludhiana city Monday following violent protests by sect followers, government officials said.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appealed to the people of Punjab to maintain peace and harmony.

“I am deeply distressed by the outbreak of violence in Punjab following certain incidents in Vienna. Whatever the provocation, it is important to maintain peace and harmony among different sections of the people,” the prime minister said.

“I appeal to all sections of the people in Punjab to abjure violence and maintain peace. In areas where curfew has been imposed, it is necessary that people should go back to their homes and allow the security forces to restore law and order,” he added.

Manmohan Singh said Sikhism was about tolerance and harmony and that all the “revered gurus of Sikhism preached the values of equality, brotherhood and harmony”.

Members of the sect laid siege to National Highway No.1 from Delhi to Amritsar. The stretch of the highway between Ludhiana and Jalandhar, 60 km from here, was blocked at several places.

Angry crowds held several areas in Jalandhar district to ransom despite curfew being imposed Sunday night. The violence that had begun with news of the attack Sunday reignited Monday morning with Sant Rama Nand’s death.

Train bogies were torched at the Jalandhar Cantonment station, a key highway blocked and vehicles and shops set afire. Trains were also attacked in Phagwara town, 20 km from Jalandhar.

Punjab Police and district authorities remained mute spectators at several points where the protesters indulged in violence. At the Amritsar bus stand, just a handful of policemen were present when youth damaged state transport and private buses and other vehicles.

The rampaging mob also attacked the convoy of Inspector General of Police Sanjiv Kalra at Lambra village near here. His security guards fired several rounds in the air to keep the crowd at bay.

Other towns also remained tense after a night of violence. Most areas in the state came to a standstill as shops and other commercial establishments did not open Monday morning fearing violence.

Protests and violence were also reported from Patiala, Ferozepur and Bathinda with government and private property being damaged.

The Dera Sachh Khand sect has considerable following among Dalit Sikhs across Punjab, especially in the Doaba belt (between rivers Sutlej and Beas).

The ruling Akali Dal in Punjab has called for a shutdown across the state to protest the Vienna incident.

Punjab Chief Minister Badal appealed for peace and demanded action against those behind the Vienna shrine attack. Badal has called an all-party meeting in Chandigarh, 150 km from here, Tuesday.

External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, after assuming charge in New Delhi, said: “It’s a very unfortunate and disturbing development that two groups of people owing allegiance to different families have set up a confrontation among themselves. It’s sad that the attack took place at a gurdwara.”

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