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Indian Troops Again Attack Sikhs’ Shrine

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From Times Wire Services

Indian government commandos, firing into the air, on Wednesday stormed the most sacred area of the Golden Temple at Amritsar and arrested about 150 Sikh nationalists holed up in Sikhdom’s holy shrine.

The Press Trust of India said the action began five hours after 200 of the separatists were arrested in raids on guest houses on the outskirts of the temple. It came a day after Sikh radicals declared an independent Sikh nation, Khalistan, in northern India’s Punjab state.

Wednesday’s assault recalled the June, 1984, Indian army attack on the Akal Takht, the Golden Temple’s inner area. An estimated 1,000 people died then as soldiers moved to evict or destroy militant Sikh holdouts.

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Parts of the complex, seat of the Sikh religion’s five high priests, were damaged by tank and mortar fire. Four months later, in apparent reprisal, Sikh gunmen assassinated Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, leader of the nation’s Hindu majority.

The Indian news agency said that troops rushed into the main temple area after about 150 people, including some Sikh priests, ignored appeals to leave the shrine. Security forces had taken up positions nearby.

An indefinite curfew was in force in Amritsar’s old walled city, where the Golden Temple is situated, and the area was blacked out to help security forces move in secret.

‘Unholy Purposes’

Announcing the raids in Parliament here, Home Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao said that the government of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, son of the slain prime minister, could not tolerate the radicals’ declaration of independence and call for recognition by foreign governments.

“The use of holy places for unholy purposes is a serious matter,” Rao said.

About 1,000 paramilitary commandos and riot policemen were involved in the raid, which was carried out on a smaller scale than the 1984 army assault. Amritsar residents told the Reuters news agency by telephone that 12 planeloads of paramilitary troops arrived in the city to carry out the raid. The residents said private cars and buses were commandeered to carry the security forces, most dressed in civilian clothes, to staging points near the temple.

The Indian news agency said that among those holed up in the temple area was the radicals’ appointee as head priest of the Golden Temple, Jathedar Gurdev Singh.

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Gurdev Singh was one of five signers of Wednesday’s declaration of Khalistan (Land of the Pure or Land of the Chosen Race).

Moderate Sikhs dispute his appointment and maintain that the congregation had no authority to name a new head priest.

Muslim Strife, Too

Elsewhere in northern India on Wednesday, religious-focused violence broke out in Uttar Pradesh state. Police fired on Muslims demonstrating over a shrine claimed by both Hindus and Muslims, and at least 11 people were killed.

More than 2,500 Muslims had gathered to demand that the Rama Janam Bhoomi temple, which was opened to Hindus by court order in February, be reserved for their exclusive use.

According to the report of a state official, the Muslims threw stones at police, who fired when they could not disperse the mob with tear gas and clubs.

Hindus maintain that the temple in the town of Ayodhya is the birthplace of Lord Rama, a major Hindu God. Muslims say it is a mosque built by Islamic emperors.

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The shrine had been closed and guarded by police since 1951.

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