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Sikh militants take over temple, surrender to troops

By H.S. BHANWAR

AMRITSAR, India -- Indian troops stormed into the Golden Temple complex Monday and evicted 1,000 Sikh militants who seized the temple and raised a separatist flag over their religion's holiest shrine.

The brief militant takeover came three days after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi returned control of the shrine to the Sikh faith's five high priests nearly four months after the army seized the complex in a bloody two day battle.

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Officials in Amritsar, 250 miles northwest of New Delhi, said the security forces withdrew from the sprawling temple complex after arresting 400 of the 1,000 militants, who surrendered peacefully.

Officials described the situation as 'well under control,' but other sources said government troops were posted just outside the complex.

Elsewhere in India, police opened fire to disperse an opposition demonstration in the neighboring state of Kashmir, killing one person and wounding another.

The victim was identified as Nisar Ahmad Butt, a worker of the opposition National Conference Party headed by ousted Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah.

The Sikh takeover drama began at about noon as the high priests were addressing a 'thanksgiving' congregation of 20,000 devotees at the Akal Takht -- the religion's highest seat -- across a small lake from the temple.

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About 40 militants rushed the stage and launched a two-hour tirade accusing the head priests of 'betraying' the Sikh masses by accepting the government's terms for returning the temple.

Shouting slogans for an independent Sikh nation in Punjab, the militants unfurled an outlawed flag of independence and hoisted it above the entrance to the temple.

They demanded that the priests, who had retreated to their offices inride the building, appear before them to account for their 'sins.'

Officials ordered in 2,000 army and paramilitary troops after the high priests notified the Punjab state police that they were unable to control the situation, authorities said.

In New Delhi, Gandhi met with her senior Cabinet advisers to review the situation.

The Indian government extended until Dec. 2 a law prohibiting foreigners -- including journalists -- from entering the troubled state.

The law was first imposed on June 2 when Gandhi ordered the army into Punjab to halt a wave of Sikh terrorism that left more than 400 people dead over a six month period

In June, the army stormed the temple to oust extremists who had taken over the shrine to use as their headquarters for a violent campaign to establish a separate state in the Punjab, where most of India's 12 million Sikhs live.

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The government said 600 people were killed in the battle, including 500 Sikhs and 100 soldiers. Unconfirmed reports placed the death toll much higher.

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