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Page last updated at 16:45 GMT, Tuesday, 26 May 2009 17:45 UK

Heavy security after Punjab riots

By Asit Jolly
BBC News, Chandigarh

Meeting of Punjab parties following Mr Ramanand's death
An appeal for calm has been made by all of Punjab's mainstream parties

Heavy security has brought an uneasy calm to India's Punjab state following riots on Monday over the killing of an Indian preacher in Austria.

The deployment of thousands of paramilitary soldiers, troops and armed police appears to have significantly discouraged more rioting.

Tens of thousands of lower caste Hindus and Sikhs took to the streets.

They were protesting over the murder of the preacher, Sant Ramanand, who was killed by a rival Sikh group in Vienna.

Offensive

Mr Ramanand was attacked on Sunday during clashes at a religious ceremony by six men armed with knives and a pistol.

Protesters brandish swords, steel rods and bamboo sticks in Amritsar on 25 May 2009
There were sporadic clashes on Tuesday

He was a senior leader of the Dera Sach Khand sect which is made up almost equally out of lower caste Hindus and poorer Sikhs.

It is thought that the attack took place because Sikh hard-liners see the sect - which incorporates Sikh customs within its teachings - as a heretical offshoot.

Many mainstream Sikhs also find the sect's beliefs to be offensive.

On Monday, supporters of the sect set fire to trains, vehicles and dozens of public and private buildings in Punjab.

A curfew is being enforced in several major cities but sporadic incidents of violence still continue.

Protesters clashed with police in the south-western town of Malout where the official car of the sub-divisional magistrate was damaged.

There have also been several attempts to disrupt traffic on national highways, although police and paramilitary forces moved quickly to clear barricades and move protesting crowds.

The trains in the state however remain at a complete standstill - all scheduled services to Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir and to Amritsar have been cancelled - leaving an estimated 40,000 passengers either stranded at railway stations or at entry points to Punjab.

Meanwhile Punjab's Chief Minister, Parkash Singh Badal, has convened a meeting - comprising representatives of all political parties - who have all issued an appeal for peace.

Confirming that at least three protesters were killed in Monday's violence, the chief minister has promised maximum compensation for every life lost and damage to private property.

And in a gesture aimed at pacifying lower caste communities in the state, Mr Badal has offered to hold a ceremonial state funeral for Mr Ramanand, who died in a Vienna hospital on Monday morning.

The chief minister also confirmed that the Indian government would arrange to fly his body back to Punjab.



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