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Sunday June 23, 2024

India arrests 112 people in manhunt for Sikh separatist

By AFP
March 20, 2023

NEW DELHI: A manhunt for a radical Sikh preacher in India entered its second day on Sunday, as authorities shut mobile internet in the whole of Punjab state and arrested 112 of his supporters.

Amritpal Singh rose to prominence in recent months demanding the creation of Khalistan, a separate Sikh homeland, and with his hardline interpretation of Sikhism at rallies in rural pockets of the northern state of some 30 million people.

Last month Singh, 30, and his supporters armed with swords, knives and guns raided a police station after one of his aides was arrested for alleged assault and attempted kidnapping.

The brazen daytime raid in the outskirts of Amritsar -- home to the holiest Sikh shrine, the Golden Temple -- left several police injured and heaped pressure on authorities to act against Singh.

After the operation began on Saturday, Punjab police tweeted late in the day that 78 had been arrested in the “mega crackdown”.

But Singh himself was not thought to be among them.

The police late Sunday said that it “made [more] preventive arrests” of people “attempting to disturb law and order in Punjab”.

“34 arrests have been made today. A total of 112 persons have been arrested so far... and there is complete peace and harmony in the state,” it added.

On Sunday, there was a major police presence across Punjab, especially in rural pockets and around Singh’s village of Jallupur Khera, local media reported.

The police said that its “manhunt” was ongoing and the overall “situation is under control, citizens (are) requested to not believe in rumours”.

Local media reports said that the Punjab government ordered the mobile internet shutdown to be in place until noon (0630 GMT) on Monday.

It was worried that social media could be used to spread rumours and misinformation which could spark street violence.

Indian authorities frequently shut down mobile internet services, particularly in the restive northern region of Kashmir.

India summoned the “senior-most UK diplomat in New Delhi” late Sunday after some Singh supporters allegedly entered and vandalised the Indian High Commission in London.

The summon was “to convey strong protest at the actions taken by separatist and extremist elements” in London, India’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

New Delhi also sought “immediate steps to identify, arrest and prosecute” the suspects and demanded “an explanation for the complete absence of the British security that allowed these elements to enter” its official premises.

The British high commissioner to India, Alex Ellis, late Sunday condemned “the disgraceful acts today against the people and premises” as “totally unacceptable” on Twitter.

Punjab -- with about 58 percent Sikhs and 39 percent Hindus -- was rocked by a violent separatist movement for Khalistan in the 1980s and early 1990s when thousands of people died.

India has often complained to respective governments over the activities of Sikh hardliners who, it says, have been trying to revive the insurgency with a massive financial push.