Sikhs defy police to mourn killers

AMRITSAR (AFP) - Police raided the Golden Temple before dawn yesterday and ordered hundreds of Sikh pilgrims out of the visitors' quarters. It was part of a statewide crackdown that took the number of arrests in four days to more than 300.

Two leading Sikh politicians, Prakash Singh Badal and Simranjit Singh Mann, were arrested on Amritsar's outskirts yesterday on their way to the Golden Temple. A third leader, Gurcharan Singh Tohra, was arrested elsewhere. Police also baton-charged and arrested about 40 supporters of Mr Mann when they tried to force their way into the shrine, witnesses said.

Hundreds of armed police and troops surrounded the Golden Temple, the Sikhs' holiest shrine and a bastion of Sikh politics and separatism where the rebels first formally announced their goal of a separate state in 1986. The police lifted their near siege of the temple around three hours after a memorial service for two Sikhs hanged nine days ago for killing a former chief of the Indian army.

About 300 Sikhs defied the police crackdown and held the memorial service in the temple. They chanted slogans hailing the assassins, Harjinder Singh Jinda and Sukhdev Singh Sukha, after the 30-minute service, witnesses said. They also chanted in support of a Sikh homeland called Khalistan (land of the pure) when a priest presented gold medals on behalf of two Sikh militant groups to the fathers of the hanged men.

Jinda and Sukha had assassinated former general Arun Sridhar Vaidya in 1986. Sikh leaders at the service praised the men for killing Vaidya, saying he deserved to die because he had led an army assault on the Golden Temple in June 1984 in which about 600 people died. The army operation was aimed at flushing out armed Sikh separatists.