Hun­dreds of Sikh sep­a­ratists rally in British cap­i­tal

Kuwait Times - - International -

LON­DON: Hun­dreds of Sikh sep­a­ratists and their sup­port­ers gath­ered in Lon­don’s Trafal­gar Square yes­ter­day to de­mand a ref­er­en­dum on an in­de­pen­dent home­land to be carved out of In­dia. They bran­dished ban­ners read­ing “Free Pun­jab, End In­dian oc­cu­pa­tion”, “Pun­jab Ref­er­en­dum 2020 for Khal­is­tan” and “We will re-es­tab­lish Pun­jab as an in­de­pen­dent coun­try”. The protest was or­ga­nized by the US and Canada-based group Sikhs for Jus­tice, and drew peo­ple from all over the world, many of them chant­ing “Khal­is­tan”. The In­dian gov­ern­ment has ex­pressed con­cern to Lon­don over the ac­tiv­ity of ex­pa­tri­ate Sikh sep­a­ratists, who want to cre­ate a home­land of Khal­is­tan in In­dia’s north­ern Pun­jab state.

The For­eign Of­fice con­firmed it dis­cussed the rally with the In­dian High Com­mis­sion, but a spokes­woman told AFP: “Peace­ful protest is a vi­tal part of a demo­cratic so­ci­ety.” Gur­pat­want S. Pan­nun, le­gal ad­vi­sor to Sikhs for Jus­tice, said: “This is a peace­ful, demo­cratic cam­paign to give Sikhs the right to de­ter­mine their own fu­ture.” Jas Singh, 26, a demon­stra­tor from Lon­don, told AFP: “In In­dia, any­body who speaks for a ref­er­en­dum gets picked up and put in jail.” There was a small counter-demon­stra­tion of about a dozen peo­ple singing and hold­ing up signs say­ing: “We stand for one united In­dia.” — AFP opened. But he has failed to unite the op­po­si­tion be­hind him, and first-round chal­lengers have ei­ther backed the pres­i­dent or re­fused to give vot­ing in­struc­tions. Few Malians at­tended a string of planned marches and protests called for by op­po­si­tion lead­ers in the cap­i­tal Ba­mako ahead of the run-off. As a re­sult, Keita, com­monly named “IBK” af­ter his ini­tials, is the clear fa­vorite.

Se­cu­rity boosted

Vot­ing will close at 1800 GMT and re­sults are ex­pected within five days. Turnout was low in the first round at around 40 per­cent. Se­cu­rity has been tight­ened for the sec­ond round, an aide in the prime min­is­ter’s of­fice said, with 20 per­cent more sol­diers on duty. This means 36,000 Malian mil­i­tary will be de­ployed, 6,000 more than two weeks ear­lier, with a par­tic­u­lar fo­cus on the Mopti re­gion in the cen­tre of the coun­try where vot­ing sta­tions had been closed. The three main op­po­si­tion can­di­dates mounted a last-ditch le­gal chal­lenge to the first-round re­sult, al­leg­ing bal­lot-box stuff­ing and other ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties. But their pe­ti­tion was re­jected by the Con­sti­tu­tional Court.

Out­side Mali, the hope is that the win­ner will strengthen a 2015 ac­cord that the frag­ile Sa­hel state sees as its foun­da­tion for peace. The deal brought to­gether the gov­ern­ment, gov­ern­ment-al­lied groups and for­mer Tuareg rebels. But a state of emer­gency heads into its fourth year in Novem­ber. Ji­hadist vi­o­lence has spread from the north to the cen­tre and south of the vast coun­try and spilled into neigh­bor­ing Burk­ina Faso and Niger, of­ten in­flam­ing com­mu­nal con­flicts. — AFP

LON­DON: Mem­bers of the Sikh com­mu­nity gather to call for a ref­er­en­dum of the Sikh global com­mu­nity to es­tab­lish In­dia’s Pun­jab state as an in­de­pen­dent coun­try, in Trafal­gar Square in cen­tral Lon­don yes­ter­day. — AFP

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