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Sect leader stand-off: Six dead, police rule out negotiations

Sect leader stand-off: Six dead, police rule out negotiations

Chandigarh/Barwala: Haryana Police Wednesday confirmed that five women and a child have died during the stand-off between controversial sect leader Rampal's followers and the security forces. The police said that the operation to arrest Rampal would continue and there would be no negotiations with him.

Haryana Director General of Police S.N. Vashisht told media here that bodies of four women were handed over by Satlok Ashram authorities to police Wednesday while one woman and an 18-month-old child died in hospital.

The DGP said that none of the victims bore any bodily injuries. He said that the exact cause of their death would be known only after post-mortem examination.

He said one woman and the child died because proper medical attention was not being given to them in time.

"Our operation will continue till we arrest the accused (Rampal). We have given a deadline to people inside the ashram to vacate the premises. Many of them have been forced to stay inside. No negotiations would be held with him (Rampal)," Vashisht said.

Rampal continued to evade arrest even as hundreds of his followers left his ashram here in Haryana Wednesday morning.

Police sources said that Rampal and private army of volunteers were holding followers hostage inside the premises. "They are using women and children as shields," a police officer said.

Fearing more police action Wednesday after Tuesday's violent clashes left nearly 300 people, including 110 policemen, injured, the followers stranded inside the Satlok Ashram near Barwala town, 210 km from here, started leaving.

District authorities said that over 10,000 people, who were inside the ashram complex for the past few days, started leaving early Wednesday after a portion of a 20-foot high wall of the ashram complex was brought down.

"We have provided transportation to such people to help them reach bus stands and railway station in Barwala, Hisar and Hansi," a district official told IANS.

Police officials said that hundreds of supporters of Rampal were still holed up inside the 12-acre ashram complex. Though the ashram management claimed that Rampal was not inside the complex, Haryana Director General of Police (DGP) S.N. Vashisht said that Rampal was hiding inside.

Most of the followers of the self-styled godman said they were forced to stay inside the ashram by volunteers and the private commando force of the sect leader.

The police have booked Rampal, who is already facing charges of murder, inciting mobs and contempt of court, for sedition. He has now also been booked for attempt to murder, criminal conspiracy, illegal detention, rioting and preventing government servant from performing duties, the DGP said.

"The police have shown a lot of restraint since yesterday (Tuesday) and have not fired a single shot," Haryana's Additional Chief Secretary-home P.K. Mahapatra told media here.

Supporters of Rampal had clashed with security forces Tuesday to prevent them from entering the ashram premises.

The area around the ashram resembled a battlefield as sect supporters resisted the police action.

Sect followers fired openly at the police, lobbed petrol bombs and acid pouches, besides hurling stones and bricks outside the ashram in Hisar district, clearly indicating that the sect was well-prepared to resist security forces.

Several media persons covering the stand-off and clash were injured when the police carried out an unprovoked attack on them. The cameras of many journalists were broken.

Hundreds of Rampal followers, including women and children, camped outside his ashram for nearly a fortnight in a bid to prevent security forces from entering the complex.

The sect leader has been avoiding arrest and has failed to appear before the Punjab and Haryana High Court although non-bailable warrants were issued against him Nov 5.

Rampal's supporters had indulged in vandalism in a court in Hisar in July this year when he was going there in connection with a 2006 murder conspiracy case. The high court took suo motu notice of the incident and summoned Rampal.

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