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Clashes over guru rape verdict kill 32

By: AFP

At least 32 people were killed Friday when clashes broke out in northern India after a court convicted a controversial religious leader of raping two of his followers, sparking fury among tens of thousands of supporters who had gathered for the verdict.

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Authorities rushed hundreds of troops to the city of Panchkula after followers of guru Ram Rahim Singh torched cars went on a rampage throwing rocks and attacking television vans and setting fire to dozens of private vehicles.

More than 100,000 were estimated to have gone to the city in Haryana state, where India’s federal investigations agency had set up a special court to rule on the charge that he had raped two female devotees.

Authorities said 32 people had been killed and around 180 injured after rioting broke out in Haryana, where many areas were now under curfew.

“The situation continues to be grim but we are gaining some ground. Hop efully we will mobilize more forces in the night to take control,” a senior state official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

He said the large crowd went berserk soon after the verdict was pronounced and attacked police and set vehicles afire before the police took action.

Most of the fatalities were caused by gunshots, the officer said.

Ram Rahim Singh has a vast following in many states of northern India, including in Haryana, where he runs a spiritual movement that claims to have millions of devotees around the world.

Authorities imposed an indefinite curfew in Panchkula, where mobile internet services had earlier been cut off.

As news of Singh’s conviction spread there were reports of violence in several districts of neighboring Punjab state and on the outskirts of the capital Delhi, which borders Haryana.

Authorities imposed curfew in at least four districts of Punjab to curb spread of violence.

“Two train stations have been burnt in Punjab and two empty (train) coaches have been set on fire in Delhi’s Anand Vihar station,” said Neeraj Sharma, a spokesman for Indian Railways.

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