General Strike in Punjab, Curfews in Eight Towns
AMRITSAR, India (AP) _ Violence and police shootings in Sikh-dominated Punjab state today marred a general strike called by major political parties to mourn Hindus slain in bloody terrorist attacks.
Sikh terrorists in a jeep opened fire with submachine guns in Punjab’s Jullundur district tonight, and at least seven people were killed, United News of India reported. The news agency said the terrorists opened fire in three villages near the town of Nakodar.
The report said the victims included a barber and his customer, a grocery shop owner and a bicycle repairman. No other details or confirmation were immediately available.
Two Sikh terrorist groups, meanwhile, reportedly claimed responsibility for the Friday bloodbath in Ludhiana in which as many as 16 Hindus were said to be slain. Both groups advocate formation of an independent homeland for the Sikh minority to be called ″Khalistan,″ or ″the land of the pure.″
Round-the-clock curfews were clamped in the cities of Pathankot and Hoshiapur today after protesting Hindus turned violent.
Authorities said police shot and wounded 24 people in Pathankot, a garrison town in the foothills of the Himalayas where rioters stoned the police chief’s office, beat up six policemen and set fire to shops.
In Hoshiarpur, Hindu marchers clashed with militant Sikh youths.
Curfews already are in force in eight other Punjab towns.
In Amritsar, seat of the Golden Temple, the holiest shrine in Sikhdom, police fired warning shots to disengage clashing Hindu and Sikh militants. Three people were injured in the clashes.
Amritsar police earlier used batons to disperse another group of activists of the Hindu Shiv Sena, or ″God’s Army,″ who were staging a protest against the Ludhiana slayings.
A Sikh extremist wanted for a recent slaying of a police officer also was killed in a shootout with police early today outside Amritsar, police said.
Security forces, meanwhile, were alerted to look for Hindu activist Shiv Sena Chief Jagdish Tangri who went underground Friday after the terrorist shootings. Tangri’s group says it wants to fight and kill Sikh terrorists.
Meanwhile, state authorities asked Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s federal government to rush more than 6,000 additional paramilitary troops to Punjab.
The troops are to join 25,000 other federal troops and 60,000 police and National Guards in curbing escalating terrosm in the strategic region.
The United News of India news agency reported today that callers from two different Sikh separatist groups - the underground Deshmesh Regiment, and the Khalistan Commando Force - had claimed responsibility for the Ludhiana bloodbath.
The Deshmesh Regiment has claimed responsibility for a number of terrorist attacks in India since 1984 including last year’s booby-trap bombings in New Delhi and other northern Indian towns in which at least 87 people were killed.
Most newspapers today said 13 Hindus had been killed in the hit-and-run attacks, although a state government spokesman earlier had reported nine deaths.
The National Herald, the organ of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress Party, put the toll at 16.
The attacks followed a general escalation of terrorist violence in Punjab in which more than 67 people have been killed in the past 15 days alone, according to government count.
Today’s general strike in Punjab shut most schools, colleges, shops, businesses, restaurants and markets, and leaders began a campaign to oppose Sikh extremists.
″All democratic and secular forces will carry out a massive campaign in Punjab to combat and isolate the extremists who are out to destabilize Punjab and the nation,″ said a statement signed by political leaders.
The parties signing the statement included Gandhi’s party, Punjab’s ruling moderate Sikh Akali Dal, the right-wing Hindu-dominated Bharatiya Janata (Indian People’s) party, and the pro-Moscow Communist Party of India.
The Friday attacks triggered the ouster of the Punjab police chief. Officials said Joseph F. Rebeiro has taken over from B.S. Dhaliwal as the state’s director-general of police.
Rebeiro was a special secretary in the Indian Home Affairs Ministry in New Delhi. He formerly was a police commissioner of Bombay and Delhi.