Shutdown hits Punjab, Rajoana appeals for calm

Chandigarh : A shutdown called by Sikh groups to protest the scheduled hanging of terrorist Balwant Singh Rajoana affected life in most parts of Punjab but the man facing death remained defiant.

Protest marches were taken out in many places demanding clemency for Rajoana, who is to hang Saturday for his role in the 1995 assassination of then Punjab chief minister Beant Singh.

Authorities said barring stray incidents of unrest, the situation was largely peaceful. Rajoana himself appealed to Sikh youths to remain calm, even after his death.

Minor violence was reported from Patiala, 80 km from here. There was tension at Lehra and Tapa towns in southwest Punjab as Rajoana supporters forced traders to close their establishments.

In Patiala, a clash took place between two groups. In Jalandhar, police used batons to disperse a mob at Adda Hoshiarpur area as some people armed with swords tried to stop a train.

Rajoana, lodged in Patiala’s central jail, issued a letter through his sister Kamaldeep Kaur appealing to people to maintain peace.

He said he will not submit any mercy petition to the president or prime minister to get his death sentence commuted, and added that he was waiting to die Saturday.

The area around the prison came under heavy security cover. Barricades were put up on roads leading to the complex.

Patiala police chief Gurpreet Singh Gill said tight security was in place around the prison.

A court in Chandigarh Tuesday directed that the Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) terrorist be hanged Saturday for playing a role in the killing of Congress chief minister Beant Singh.

The high-profile assassination took place some two years after a bloody decade-long Sikh separatist campaign was crushed in 1993 after the loss of some 25,000 lives.

On Wednesday, shops and commercial establishments were closed in most places across the state. Saffron colour flags were put up on buildings as well as houses and shops to portray defiance.

Additional Director General of Police S.K. Sharma said there was no major incident of violence.

Educational institutions too were closed. There were fewer state transport and private buses on the roads.

But other traffic was normal on most national and state highways. Protesters did block some roads in Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Bathinda, Patiala and Amritsar for some time.

With tension running high, the authorities are taking no chances.

Nearly 60,000 Punjab Police personnel and 15 companies of paramilitary forces have been put on alert.

In Chandigarh, the administration imposed prohibitory orders to foil protests and rallies.

Radical Sikh group Dal Khalsa said the shutdown Wednesday was a success in Punjab.

In New York, Human Rights Watch urged the Indian government not to hang Rajoana, saying it was opposed in principle to capital punishment.
IANS

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