Hundreds of Sikh separatists rally in British capital
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.
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