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Guilty will be punished: Sonia

Sonia's visit coincided with public upsurge over police firing in Assam where 9 people, including 2 cops, were killed.

india Updated: Feb 12, 2006 22:07 IST

Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Saturday kicked off the party's election campaign in Assam promising that the central government would soon announce an economic package to boost the beleaguered tea industry in the state.

"Very soon the central government would be announcing a special package for the uplift of the tea industry. We are concerned since the tea industry is passing through a rough phase and hence the incentives," Gandhi told a rally of Congress supporters in this garrison town of Tezpur in northern Assam.

She said the ruling Congress government in Assam has brought about rapid development in the state, but urged party workers to continue working to keep communal forces at bay.

"As elections draw closer communal forces are trying to vitiate the atmosphere. We need to be cautious and fight such forces," Gandhi said. Elections to the 126-member Assam legislature are expected in April-May.

Sonia Gandhi's visit coincided with the massive public upsurge over police firing in eastern Assam where nine people, including two paramilitary troopers, were killed on Friday.

Police opened fire when thousands of people tried to set ablaze a police station and storm an army outpost over the alleged death of a villager in army custody.

"Any soldier found guilty in the attack would be punished and we have taken up the matter with Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee," Gandhi said.

She also announced financial assistance of Rs.300,000 to the next of kin of those who died and free education to their children.

Gandhi is scheduled to lay the foundation stone of the Fakruddin Ali Ahmed College in Barpeta in western Assam. She will later inaugurate the Rajiv Gandhi Indoor Games Stadium near Guwahati.

Gandhi's visit to Assam comes a day after New Delhi decided to amend the Foreigners Act by introducing tribunals where all suspected migrants could appeal against charges of illegal migration. A tribunal hearing is not mandatory in the rest of India under the Foreigners Act of 1946.

The Supreme Court in July last year repealed the controversial Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act. The 22-year-old act was replaced with the Foreigners Act.

Through the amendment, the Congress hopes to make up for lost ground in Assam by wooing the Muslims, promising them a fair hearing and not summarily deporting them after declaring them as aliens.

Muslims in Assam, who account for about 30 per cent of the state's 26 million people, have for decades been at the centre stage of electoral politics with the community holding the key in at least 40 of the 126 assembly constituencies.

The Muslims and the Bengali speaking linguistic minority voters in Assam were traditionally Congress supporters.

First Published: Feb 11, 2006 15:39 IST