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Dera followers wreak havoc: UK, Australia, Canada advise citizens to be cautious

Several countries, including the US, Britain and Canada, have advised their citizens to exercise a high degree of caution in north India because of the violence that followed Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s conviction in a rape case.

world Updated: Aug 26, 2017 16:34 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar and Rezaul H Laskar
Prasun Sonwalkar and Rezaul H Laskar
Hindustan Times, London/New Delhi
Ram Rahim,Ram Rahim rape verdict,Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh
A traffic snarl caused by security checks at Zirakpur to Chandigarh entry point in Chandigarh on August 26, 2017. (HT Photo)

A number of countries, ranging from the UK to Indonesia, have advised their citizens to exercise caution while travelling in north India after the widespread violence that followed Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s conviction in a 2002 rape case.

Britain revised its travel advisory on India after thousands of followers of Ram Rahim went on the rampage on Friday, setting fire to vehicles, buildings and railway stations.

The British deputy high commission and British Council offices in Chandigarh were closed until August 28 “due to the possibility of further serious violence”, the Foreign Office’s advisory said. Chandigarh was the scene of several clashes on Friday.

The violence and clashes, which claimed 31 lives, were widely reported by the British media, featuring at the top of prime time news bulletins on Friday night. The revised advisory noted that a “number of deaths have been reported in violent clashes” following Ram Rahim’s conviction.

The US had issued a security message for its citizens even before the verdict in Ram Rahim’s case, warning of the “possibility of violence”.

The advisory from the Australian foreign ministry said incidents of violence had been reported from parts of Haryana and Punjab states and Chandigarh and high alerts were in place in these areas until August 30.

The advisories of the UK, the US and Australia asked their citizens to avoid large gatherings and follow the advice of local authorities. They also noted that a ban on unauthorised gatherings were in place in Chandigarh, Haryana and Punjab.

The US advisory warned that local road and rail travel “may be significantly disrupted” while the Australian advisory pointed out that mobile internet services in Chandigarh had been suspended.

The advisory from Canada, which has a large number of citizens of Punjabi origin, said that “tensions remain high” in Punjab and Haryana and various other areas while local authorities had placed Delhi on “high alert do to sporadic violence”.

“Power supplies, mobile internet and other telecommunication services are restricted in certain areas. If you are in one of the affected areas, limit your movements and monitor local media for the latest information,” it added.

An advisory from Indonesia asked its citizens in India to “increase awareness and keep an eye on the development of the security situation” and to avoid, “temporarily, areas with potential targets of acts of violence”.

The foreign ministry of the Maldives said it was “closely monitoring the situation in Punjab”, where there are an unspecified number of Maldivian students. It said on Twitter that had ascertained that all the students were “safe and staying indoors”.

Most of the countries noted there had been no change in their nationwide advisories for India but asked their citizens to exercise a “high degree of caution”. The advisories also listed several potential challenges in India, including terrorism and risk of Zika virus transmission.

However, the UK advisory noted most visits to India by more than 800,000 British nationals every year are trouble-free.

First Published: Aug 26, 2017 16:32 IST