24 killed in clashes as sect evicted in India

New Delhi—Clashes between Indian police and followers of a revolutionary sect have left at least 24 people dead after an operation to evict thousands of people from parkland erupted into violence, officials said Friday.
Two police officers were among those killed in the overnight clashes during a move to expel around 3,000 sect followers who had illegally occupied public land in the state of Uttar Pradesh for the last two years.
Police and other officials said they came under fire from members of the sect who were armed with automatic weapons and also hurled crude explosive devices during the violence in
the northern city of Mathura.
“They were firing at us from tree-tops. Others were hurling stones or assaulting us with sticks and other weapons. Two of our men were wounded and they died in hospital,” said Uttar Pradesh police chief Javeed Ahmad.
“Soon after the attack, we got reinforcements and launched a counter-attack on the camp and successfully cleared the area.”
Speaking to reporters in Mathura, Ahmad said some of the Swadhin Bharat Vidhik Satyagrah sect’s followers had set fire to huts which were storing gas cylinders and explosives during the clearance operation.
“Twenty-two of their people have died, out of which 11 have died due to burn injuries. One of the dead is a woman,” he added.
Police have also recovered several dozen pistols and rifles along with live ammunition rounds.
The operation was launched after authorities won a court order to remove hundreds of tents and makeshift wooden structures from a 270-acre patch of land the sect had been occupying since late 2014.
Television images and pictures from the scene showed that many of the huts where members of the sect had been living had been set alight, with smoke billowing across the area.
In postings on social media, Swadhin Bharat Vidhik Satyagrah’s followers describe themselves as political and social revolutionaries. Their demands include the abolition of elections and cheaper fuel for everyone.—AFP

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