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Sirsa turns into fortress ahead of Ram Rahim's sentencing

Indian army soldiers stand guard at a barricade near the Dera Sacha Sauda Ashram in Sirsa on August 27. Photograph: (AFP)

WION Web Team Sirsa, Haryana, India Aug 27, 2017, 02.33 PM (IST)

Over 30,000 followers of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh began to disperse from his headquarters in Sirsa on Sunday, ending a tense standoff with Indian Army soldiers after the godman was convicted of raping two devotees on Friday.

The Army also conducted a flag march in Sirsa today ahead of tomorrow's sentencing, inside a jail in Rohtak at 2:30pm.

The curfew imposed in Sirsa was briefly lifted on Sunday to allow Ram Rahim Singh's devotees to leave the sprawling compound under army guard. 

The godman's followers had assembled in Sirsa over the weekend and refused to leave, despite calls from police and the army for them to disperse. 

Hundreds of soldiers and riot police had blocked entry to the premises and were urging those holed up inside to surrender peacefully.

Thirty-six people were killed as tens of thousands of Ram Rahim Singh's followers went on rampage across Haryana after the court decision on Friday.

Authorities are bracing for more trouble on Monday when Ram Rahim Singh - who claims to have 50 million followers - will be sentenced.

Dera followers are not being allowed to enter the district.

The city has been heavily fortified ahead of the ruling, with roads blocked by barbed wire and residents warned to stay indoors.

A top police official said "multi-layered arrangements" had been made to prevent anybody from reaching the prison or enter Rohtak district itself. Senior members of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect have been placed under "preventive detention", the official added.

The trial court judge Jagdeep Singh will be flown to Rohtak on the orders of the Punjab and Haryana High Court. Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh could face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

In his monthly "Mann Ki Baat" address on Sunday, PM Modi said it was "natural to be worried" as the violence even briefly reached the capital New Delhi.

"Violence is not acceptable in the nation, in any form," PM Modi said, warning that "Those who take law in their hands or take to violence will not be spared, whoever they are."

Meanwhile, police said a Special Investigation Team will be asked to investigate Friday's violence after weapons - including two AK-47s and a pistol - were found during raids at more than 130 campuses of the Dera Sacha Sauda.

Ram Rahim Singh has previously been accused of encouraging 400 followers to undergo castration at his ashram so they could get closer to god. 

He also stood trial for conspiracy over the murder of a journalist in 2002.


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