Punjab curfew being relaxed but state remains tense (Lead)

May 26th, 2009 - 11:01 am ICT by IANS  

Jalandhar, May 26 (IANS) District authorities in central Punjab Tuesday allowed relaxation in curfew in towns where it was imposed Monday after widespread violence by followers of the Dera Sachh Khand sect who protested against the attack on religious leaders in a gurdwara in Vienna Sunday.
Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Hoshiarpur and Phagwara towns of Punjab continued to be under curfew for a second day Tuesday. But the curfew was being relaxed for two to four hours, said state officials in Chandigarh, 150 km from here.

Officials said additional army, police and paramilitary personnel were deployed Tuesday since tension prevailed in many parts of the state, especially the central region.

Traffic movement on the strategic National Highway 1, state highways and other roads was being allowed by the police. However, fearing more violence, not many motorists ventured to drive except for those stranded at various places.

Railway authorities cancelled at least 40 trains on the New Delhi-Amritsar and New Delhi-Jammu sections following violence and damage to railway property by the protestors.

Thousands of railway passengers, especially those headed to and from the Hindu shrine of Vaishno Devi in adjoining Jammu and Kashmir, remained stranded at various railway stations.

Over 10,000 railway passengers were stranded at the Jammu railway station itself. Hundreds of others were stranded in Amritsar, Jalandhar, Phagwara and Ludhiana stations.

Passengers from Pakistan, who came on the Samjhauta Express peace train between India and Pakistan, were stranded at Attari railway station near the international border, 30 km from Amritsar.

However, barring an incident of a sugar mill godown being set on fire in Phagwara, about 20 km from here, Punjab did not witness any major violence Monday night.

Jarnail Singh, owner of the sugar mill, said bio-fuel was stored in the godown for a captive power plant and the loss due to the fire could run into several millions of rupees.

At least two people were killed and over 10 others injured in violence that erupted in Punjab following a bloody clash in a gurdwara in the Austrian capital Sunday. The top two leaders of the Dera Sachh Khand sect, who are followers of Guru Ravidass and belong to the Dalit Sikh community, were attacked with knives and firearms.

While sect head Niranjan Dass was recovering in a hospital are emergency surgery, his second in command, Sant Rama Nand Dass, died from gunshot wounds.

While one protester died in police firing in Jalandhar, another protestor was killed in Phillaur town, 40 km from here.

Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has called an all-party meeting Tuesday in Chandigarh, 150 km from here, to discuss the volatile situation.

District authorities in Jalandhar had to requisition the help of the army and paramilitary forces after the violent situation went out of police control Sunday evening.

The state witnessed one of the worst phases of violence in decades Monday as followers of the sect and other miscreants defied curfew and took to streets at several places, burning train bogies, buses, trucks and scores of private vehicles.

Public and private property was damaged in Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Hoshiarpur, Patiala, Phagwara, Bathinda, Ferozepur, Amritsar and a few other places.

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