Thousands of Sikhs Arrive For Holy Day
AMRITSAR, India (AP) _ Authorities frisked busloads of Sikhs for weapons Saturday as they arrived here by the thousands on the eve of the sect’s holiest day and of an anti- government assembly.
Meanwhile, police said suspected Sikh extremists killed more two people on Saturday, raising the terrorist death toll since the beginning of the month to 41. Police said the newest victims were a leader of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress Party and a Sikh dissident, both killed outside Amritsar.
Sunday is Baisakhi Day, which marks the transformation of Sikhism into a martial faith in 1699.
As Sikhs began arriving in Amritsar, thousands of paramilitary troops and police were deployed around the Golden Temple, the Sikhs’ holiest shrine, and buses were stopped and everyone ordered out and searched for weapons.
More than 92,000 state police and federal paramilitary troops are deployed in Punjab to prevent terrorist violence.
Sikh militants based in the Golden Temple have called for a ″grand assembly of the pure″ on Sunday to denounce Punjab’s moderate Sikh government and the central authorities.
In addition, a five-member committee in charge of the Golden Temple on Saturday called for an economic boycott against the state’s Hindu minority.
Sikh hardliners want an independent Sikh nation in Punjab state, which they would call Khalistan. Of Punjab’s 18 million residents, 11 million are Sikhs, making it the only Indian state with a Sikh majority.
Prime Minister Gandhi on Saturday appealed for peace and religious harmony on Baisakhi, calling for ″a determined effort to overcome the forces of communalism (sectarianism) and extremism threatening the hopes and aspirations of the country.″
The day also is a harvest celebration for Hindus as well as Sikhs.
Meanwhile, in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press inside the Golden Temple, a fugitive Sikh extremist leader said Saturday that his Khalistan Commando Force has carried out most of the terrorist attacks in India since late 1984.
Manbir Singh, 28m said his group was responsible for the assassination last year of moderate Sikh leader Harchand Singh Longowal as well as prominent Hindu politicians, for the killing of seven policemen in a Punjab courthouse this month and for other attacks.
He also said his 200 commandos are recruiting a guerrilla army to battle the Indian military, and claimed thousands of militant Sikhs in the United States, Britain and Canada have enrolled as reserves in his organization.
″We have a long hit-list,″ Singh declared. ″All those hundreds of leaders in Punjab and New Delhi with police bodyguards are our targets.″
He also said when his commandos run short of funds, they rob a state-owned bank.
″We consider the money in government banks ours,″ he said. ″Whenever we feel like it, we loot a bank, so we never face any shortage of cash.″
The interview was arranged by the activist All-India Sikh Students Federation, which police say has some members linked to violence in the state.