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Queen Honors India Massacre Victims

October 14, 1997

AMRITSAR, India (AP) _ In a gesture of goodwill, Queen Elizabeth II laid a wreath of yellow flowers Tuesday at the site of a massacre by British colonial troops.

While some in this northern Indian city welcomed the British monarch with pomp and joyful shouts, others demanding a formal apology for the deaths caused by British troops 78 years ago.

The queen is on her third, and most controversial, visit to India, part of a two-week regional tour to mark the 50th anniversary of the subcontinent’s independence from Britain.

But it was her first trip to Amritsar, site of the 1919 massacre of 300 Indians that galvanized the country’s independence movement.

The queen called the killings ``distressing″ in a speech on the eve of her trip to Amritsar. Relatives of those killed 78 years ago said that amounted to the apology they had demanded.

``We are satisfied,″ said Mahesh Behl whose grandfather, Hari Ram Behl, was killed by the British troops. ``Our effort did move the queen.″

The 71-year-old British monarch made no statements Tuesday as she walked barefoot across a reflecting pool to place marigolds inside a walled park where the killings occurred.

Several leftist groups continued to insist on a more explicit apology but were able to muster only a few scattered protests Tuesday.

Police, determined that nothing mar the royal visit, used clubs to disperse the protesters before the monarch arrived. One man was dragged away by his hair, shouting ``down with the queen.″

British officials had said that though the queen would not apologize, the laying of a wreath at the site of the massacre should be taken as a ``very special gesture.″

The unarmed Indians were gunned down on April 13, 1919, while attending an illegal but peaceful independence rally defying British rule.

After paying homage to the dead, the queen and her husband Prince Philip visited the nearby Golden Temple, the heart of the Sikh religion and site of a 1984 government siege to drive out Sikh separatists that drew international attention.

``This visit of the queen conveys the message to the world that at present, after the bloodshed, there is peace in the Golden Temple,″ said Sikh high priest Gurcharan Singh Tohra.

A decade-long campaign for a Sikh homeland, that authorities say had been crushed by 1994, left more than 15,000 people dead.

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