NEW DELHI, India (AP) _ A prominent Sikh extremist swallowed poison and died after he was spotted by police in northern Punjab state, the United News of India said.

The agency quoted the Punjab police chief, K.P.S. Gill, as saying Gurmit Singh, wanted for several killings, swallowed potassium cyanide Tuesday after policemen confronted him when he stepped off a bus near the town of Barnla.

Gurmit Singh was believed to be involved in the July 25 killing of Sohan Singh, the chief priest of the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Sikh militants opposed the May appointment of the moderate priest to the post at the temple, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs.

Sikh extremists, fighting a guerrilla war since 1982 for an independent homeland in Punjab, have been blamed for nearly 1,600 killings this year. The radicals often pick Hindus and moderate Sikhs as targets.

Sikhs, who make up 2 percent of India's 800 million people but a majority in Punjab, allege they are discriminated against by Hindus. Hindus account for more than 80 percent of the population.

The Sikh religion was founded about 500 years ago as an alternative to Hinduism and Islam.

Militants have used the Golden Temple as a base. In June 1984, government troops stormed the temple, and at least 1,200 people, mostly Sikhs, were killed.

In October 1984, Sikh bodyguards killed Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in revenge.