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A Peaceful shutdown
*Skirmishes in Ambala *Sirsa calm
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, May 22
The day-long Punjab bandh passed off peacefully today. However, a curfew-like situation prevailed in the state as educational institutions and shops and other business establishments were closed, bus services were suspended and roads wore a deserted look.

People in Punjab, cutting across religions, “supported” the bandh call given by Akal Takht.

Emergency services, which were exempted from the bandh, functioned normally while chemist shops were allowed to open in major cities. The attendance in offices was thin. The main secretariat and the mini secretariat in Chandigarh, which are normally teeming with visitors, wore a deserted look. Even the few ministers who attended office were virtually without visitors.

Supplies of fruit, vegetables and milk from the rural areas could not reach major cities and towns. Buses of other states, including Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan, and the Chandigarh transport undertaking did not enter Punjab as a precautionary measure.

A training camp for MLAs of the SAD and the BJP on legislative procedures, scheduled to start today, was postponed.

At Pathankot, the national highway leading to Jammu and Kashmir was blocked by protesters. Rail traffic was largely normal barring a few disruptions on the Ludhiana-Ambala and Hoshiarpur-Jalandhar sections, railway sources said.

The Sikh high priests had called for a bandh for the alleged blasphemous imitation of Guru Gobind Singh by Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh.

Director-general of Punjab police N.P.S. Aulakh said six or seven persons who could have created trouble were detained even as the law-enforcing agencies were not called upon to use force at any place in the state. Some youth ---- including a few hardliners ---- who had gathered at a few places like Rampura Phul and Bhagta Bhai ka were dispersed, said the DGP while briefing reporters here this evening.

He said no action would be taken for the violation of orders under section 144, CrPC. The section bans the assembly of five or more persons. “Since most of the protests were democratic in nature and in no way intended to breach the peace,” no action would be taken, said Harcharan Bains, media adviser to Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal.

Meanwhile, in neighbouring Haryana, minor skirmishes were reported. At Ambala, 10 persons, including four policemen, were injured when a group of Sikhs clashed with the police who lathicharged the demonstrators trying to hold a procession near the Badshahi Bagh gurdwara in the city. SP Amitabh Dhillon was among those injured.

The Punjab government had made elaborate security arrangements to maintain peace. Heavy deployment of personnel was made in the Bathinda, Moga, Muktsar, Faridkot and Mansa areas in the Malwa belt which has a sizeable number of Sacha Sauda supporters.

Security around major gurdwaras, particularly the Golden Temple and Takht Damdama Sahib at Talwandi Sabo, was also tightened.

Sirsa in Haryana, headquarters of Dera Sacha Sauda, was peaceful. A peace march was held by residents.

Sikh organisations held a peace procession in Jalandhar. SGPC chief Avtar Singh Makkar has convened a meeting tomorrow to plan the future course of action.

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