Police storm ashram in India in search of guru

2014-11-18 14:10

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New Delhi - Indian police armed with tear gas, batons and bulldozers stormed an ashram on Tuesday where a controversial guru was believed to be holed up, surrounded by thousands of supporters who vowed to prevent his arrest. At least several people were injured.

The guru, Sant Rampal, has repeatedly ignored court summons to appear for questioning in the 2006 killing of a villager by his supporters.

In recent days, supporters have formed a human chain around the sprawling compound in Haryana state in an attempt to prevent police from entering.

Television reports showed police firing tear gas and using bulldozers to try to force their way into the compound. Hundreds of policemen also used batons to beat and drag away scores of Rampal's supporters, including women. It was not immediately known if any were arrested.

Rampal, 63, an engineer-turned-guru, was granted bail in the 2006 case, but it was cancelled in July after his supporters entered a court room and threatened lawyers.

Final deadline

Since 2010, Rampal has ignored 43 court summonses, seeking exemptions each time. The court set a final deadline for him to be present in court on Monday, which he also ignored.

Anupam Gupta, a court-appointed mediator, said Rampal faces arrest for not heeding the court summons.

"Rampal has said that he is above the law of the country. The guru and his supporters have openly challenged the government and the judicial system," Gupta told reporters.

Rampal's supporters say he is too ill to make the 250km journey from his ashram in Haryana's Hisar district to the court in the state capital, Chandigarh.

District authorities cut off water and power to the ashram two days ago and blocked food deliveries in an attempt to disperse the protesters. Police also issued orders banning people from gathering near the ashram, but they were ignored by Rampal's supporters, who squatted on the ground outside the compound.

Police issued warnings on megaphones before firing tear gas into the ashram complex.

Television reports showed several bloodied people being carried away by police but there was no immediate information on how many were injured. A police official in Haryana acknowledged that some journalists had been hurt.

"Whatever had happened must have happened unknowingly," said Jawahar Yadav, an assistant to the chief minister of Haryana. "There was no plan to attack the media I am sure."

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