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Six Dead, Nearly 200 Injured Amid Clashes at Indian Ashram

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At least six people have died and about were 190 injured as violent clashes broke out at the ashram of an Indian religious leader wanted by the police for an alleged 2006 murder.

Over half the injured were police officers who swooped on the maze-like ashram of 63-year-old Sant Rampal in the north-Indian state of Haryana on Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.

Police fired water cannons and tear gas into the compound belonging to the spiritual guru, who has ignored 43 court summonses for murder relating to a person killed in clashes between his followers and opponents in July 2006. Rampal’s supporters reportedly retaliated with guns, rocks and bags of acid, and police efforts to break through a wall were halted on suspicion that it was rigged with explosives.

“We want to ensure that innocent people inside the ashram are not harmed,” said Haryana’s director-general of police Shriniwas Vashisht.

Members of the ashram handed over the dead bodies of four women to local authorities Wednesday morning, according to the Indian Express, and another woman rushed to the hospital in a critical state was pronounced dead on arrival. An 18-month-old child was also among Wednesday’s casualties. Local news channel NDTV, whose journalists were among those injured in the clashes, reported that the child was suffering from jaundice and was unable to get treatment because Rampal’s supporters prevented anyone leaving the premises.

Thousands of the engineer-turned-godman’s followers now appear to be leaving the ashram, and police say they are confident Rampal is holed up inside despite reports that he had fled.

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Write to Rishi Iyengar at rishi.iyengar@timeasia.com