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Punjab burns as sect leader dies in Vienna

National, Mon, 25 May 2009 IANS

Jalandhar, May 25 (IANS) Several parts of Punjab continued to be on the boil Monday with trains burnt and key highways blocked as violence by followers of the Dera Sachh Khand, opposing the attack on sect leaders in the Austrian capital Vienna, spread and brought the state to a standstill.


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, Hoshiarpur and Nawanshahr towns.



Curfew was imposed by the district authorities in Hoshiarpur town, 150 km from Chandigarh, following violence by members of the sect, who are from the Dalit Sikh community and followers of Guru Ravidass, as news came in of a top leader dying of his injuries following a clash in a Vienna gurdwara Sunday.



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



Angry crowds continued to hold several areas in Jalandhar district to ransom despite curfew being imposed in the entire district Sunday night.



Train bogies were torched at the Jalandhar Cantonment station, a key highway blocked and vehicles and shops set afire. No police personnel were present on the spot when the protesters torched railway property. Trains were also attacked in Phagwara town, 20 km from Jalandhar.



Sect leader Sant Rama Nand, 57, the second-in-command, died in a hospital in the Austrian capital Vienna, following an armed attack involving rival Sikh groups at a gurdwara 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 guru speaking at the Vienna gurdwara, was stable after undergoing emergency surgery, doctors there said.



The violence that had begun with news of the attack Sunday reignited with Sant Rama Nand's death.



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



There were reports that even vehicles of police officials were targeted by mobs in this city.



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 from the sect protesters.



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



Road and railway traffic was severely affected in Jalandhar district and adjoining areas. Protesters blocked National Highway (NH) No. 1 between Jalandhar and Phagwara at several places. Railway traffic on this busy route between Delhi and Jammu was also crippled.



Vehicles, shops and other property were damaged by the protesters by either setting them on fire or in stone-pelting. Burning tyres and road blocks could be seen at several places.



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.



Government spokesperson Harcharan Bains said that the Punjab government was doing everything to keep the volatile situation under control.



'This (violence) involves religious sentiments of the people. The government will take appropriate action as required,' Bains told media in Chandigarh.


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