At least 15 people were killed after clashes erupted during an Indian police crackdown on up to 3,000 members of a religious sect. The sect had been occupying a public park illegally for two years.
More than 1,000 adherents of the Swadhin Bharat Vidhik Satyagrah religious movement were also reportedly detained during the operation. The area in the city of Mathura in the northern Uttar Pradesh state was cleared and eventually sealed off. Two of those killed during the eviction process were police officers.
"We had gone to clear the area but were fired upon by the miscreants. Two of our men died," Hari Ram Sharma, a senior police officer, told the AFP news agency. Police initially responded with canes and tear gas, but Sharma added that they had to resort to live fire later on, resulting in the deaths of at least 13 activists. Some sources mentioned further deaths. State authorities ordered a probe into the deadly clashes.
TV news pictures showed many of the huts in the park on fire, with smoke billowing across the area.
Not an isolated case
The clearance operation was launched following a court order to remove hundreds of tents and makeshift structures from the 109-hectare (270-acre) patch of land, which the sect had been occupying since late 2014. The sect describes itself as a collective of political and social revolutionaries. There are hundreds of such semi-religious sects in India.
Armed supporters of another sect had clashed with police in the northern state of Haryana in 2014 in a similar manner. At least six people were killed in the violence.
ss/jm (AFP, dpa)