05/18/2007, 00.00
INDIA
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Bloody clashes between Dera Sacha Sauda followers and Sikh groups in Punjab

Sikhs’ attack against sect kills one and injures many more. Sikhs accuse sect leader of blasphemy because he appeared in an ad dressed up like the tenth Sikh Guru. Punjab’s chief minister calls on Union home affairs minister to send troops.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Clashes in the Punjab between supporters of a Sikh sect called Dera Sacha Sauda (DSS) and other Sikh groups left one person dead and several injured. The incident was sparked by an ad in which DSS leader Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh appeared dressed up like Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and last guru of the Sikh faith. This led to charges of blasphemy against him with many Sikhs burning him in effigy.

Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal convened an emergency meeting of officials to review the situation and spoke with Union (federal) Home Minister Shivraj Patil requesting the deployment of 50 companies of Central Forces.

The chief minister’s request comes in the wake of four days in which the state has been rocked by violence. In Salawatpur, at least 15 people were hurt by gunshot.

More than 25,000 Sikhs have camped outside Salabetpura, Punjab's biggest Dera campus with 3,000 sect followers inside, appearing ready to attack and set it on fire, reports said.

Police sources have reported that at least five other Dera campuses have been attacked in Bathinda district.

Whilst crowds of people were on their way back from the religious town of Talwandi Sabo Gurdwara near Bathinda, top Sikh clergymen met to discuss the situation. Five high priests gave the Punjab government an ultimatum. Unless it acted against the DSS by May 20, they would be forced to act against them.

Fearing a possible attack, senior Punjab police officers called on DSS followers to vacate their Dera campuses in the Malwa region, saying Sikhs might attack these places.

In the meantime the Chief Minister’s media office released a press statement calling on everyone to refrain from violent demonstrations. (NC)

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