Dozens killed as guru's followers riot over rape conviction

Singh counted celebrities and politicians among his legions of supporters

At least 13 people were killed and scores injured Friday after violence erupted in northern Indian state of Haryana following conviction of self-styled godman and spiritual guru Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in a rape case, local media reported.

Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, known as the "guru in bling" for his liking for elaborate costumes, is the leader of the Dera Sacha Sauda, a group based in the north Indian state of Haryana that claims to have millions of devotees.

The verdict triggered violent clashes across Panchkula between police and groups of Ram Rahim's supporters, leading to the deaths of at least 12 people and injuring scores more. Angry supporters rampaged through Panchkula town, near Chandigarh.

Police used water cannon in an attempt to disperse the crowd. Several government offices were also reportedly vandalized by followers of the so-called "godman".

Singh, a burly, bearded man who has scripted and starred in his own films, had denied the charges.

Several trains that travel through Punjab and Haryana have been cancelled.

Earlier yesterday morning, the court had said the "forces should not hesitate to use weapons, if required", during a hearing on the situation in Panchkula.

The administration has clamped a curfew in most of the parts of Haryana and adjoining Punjab to control the infuriated mob of Rahim's followers.

Patrolling in sensitive areas has been intensified, more checkpoints have been put in place and round-the-clock checking is in progress, the spokesperson said, adding flag marches were being conducted by paramilitary and police personnel in many areas.

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Authorities have imposed curfew in areas, which are in the vicinity of the Dera headquarters, on Thursday.

"We demand that strict action should be taken against the miscreants and the state government should take urgent steps for safety and security of journalists and also compensate the television news networks for the losses suffered by them", they said.

Asserting that he would personally ensure peace in the state as long as he is in charge, the chief minister said it has been decided that ban on mobile data services would be extended till Tuesday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the violence on Twitter, saying "the instances of violence today are deeply distressing".

The prohibitory orders have been issued under section 144 to restrict the movement of Dera followers as well as to keep the situation in control if the verdict comes against Dera chief. "Urged officials to work round the clock to restore normalcy and provide all possible assistance that is required".

Protesters set fires and clashed with police and security officers in two states, Haryana and Punjab, after a court in Panchkula announced it had found the guru guilty.

The court will announce a sentence on Monday. "There is no air conditioner in the cell where he is locked and is also kept under the surveillance of two prisoners as per the jail manual" Singh said.

However, thousands of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect descended onto the streets, protesting his innocence.


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