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Violence spreads in Punjab, Haryana; two killed

By Onkar Singh in New Delhi
Last updated on: May 25, 2009 14:30 IST
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Two persons were killed and several injured as violence triggered by the killing of a Dera leader engulfed Punjab and parts of Haryana, where protestors set afire train coaches, buses and clashed with police, prompting authorities to impose curfew in four cities and calling out the Army in Jalandhar.

The guru, 57-year-old Sant Ramanand, was injured after Sikh followers clashed with knives and a pistol at a gurdwara in Vienna's 15th district on Sunday. He later succumbed to his injuries.

Curfew was imposed in Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Phagwara and Hoshiarpur following large-scale violence and damage to government and private property, including cars parked in police stations.

One person was killed and four others were injured as Army personnel opened fire in Lambra village, 30 kms from Jalandhar, and another person was killed after the police opened fire on protesters at Jalandhar Cantonment railway station.

Shops and commercial establishments were closed following a Punjab bandh call given by local units of the Dera Sachkhand Ballan whose leaders were attacked in Vienna.

The Shiromani Akali Dal also gave a bandh call. Road and railway traffic was disrupted at several places in the state even as protestors damaged trains, buses and other vehicles at various places including Jalandhar, Phagwara, Hoshiarpur, Nawanshahar, Banga, Ludhiana and Moga. The Delhi-Lahore bus service was stopped at Ludhiana as a precautionary measure.

Protestors also blocked the Ambala-Delhi National Highway for three hours and damaged buses in Ambala. Condemning the killing of the Dera leader, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal appealed for calm and asked people not to be provoked.

In Jalandhar, four bogies of the Jammu Kanyakumari Himsagar Express were set on fire after the passengers were asked to alight by the arsonists.

The protestors set afire the engine of the Sonepur Jammu Express in Phagwara after forcing the driver Anant Singh to come out by placing a sword on his temple. The engine was detached from the train in time to prevent the fire from spreading to the coaches.

A Phagwara report said a mob pelted stones at Border Security Force personnel at a number of places after the force was deployed to bring the violence under control.

Traffic on various roads, including the Delhi-Ambala, Jalandhar-Jammu and Jalandhar-Chandigarh National Highways, besides various state highways, has been badly affected.

Nearly 20 buses and other vehicles, including motorcycles, were damaged at various places including Patiala, Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Amritsar, Hoshiarpur, and Phagwara in Punjab and Ambala in Haryana.

On the Jalandhar-Delhi national highway, protestors armed with lathis and swords damaged the engine of a train bound for Jammu.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has expressed deep concern over the violence in Punjab.

In a message, Dr Singh said, "I am deeply distressed by the outbreak of violence in Punjab following certain incidents in Vienna, Austria. Whatever the provocation, it is important to maintain peace and harmony among different sections of the people. Sikhism preaches tolerance and harmony. All the revered gurus of Sikhism preached the values of equality, brotherhood and harmony. Invoking the teachings of the gurus, I appeal to all sections of the people in Punjab to 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. I sincerely appeal to the people of Punjab to heed this message and help the authorities restore peace and order".

Viewing the violence in a Vienna gurdwara as a 'disturbing' development, External Affairs Minister S M Krishna said the government will ensure that perpetrators of the 'completely mindless and wanton act' are brought to justice. As he assumed charge of the ministry, Krishna said the government is in touch with Austrian authorities and is closely monitoring the situation.

He expressed grief over the killing of Sant Ramanand in the clash. Underlining that there is no place for violence in a secular society like India, Krishna said there can be "no excuse whatsoever for violation of the sanctity of the sacred premises of the gurdwara to subserve narrow sectarian interests and other purposes."

With additinal inputs from PTI

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Onkar Singh in New Delhi