30 hurt in Austria temple clash

VIENNA: Sikh followers clashed with knives and at least one gun at a temple in Vienna on Sunday, injuring some 30 people in a dispute between rival religious communities, police and witnesses said.

Separately, Indian media said a curfew was imposed in parts of the Sikh-majority city of Jalandhar in the northern Indian state of Punjab after violence broke out, apparently in response to news of the Vienna incident.

The clash in Austria broke out around 1:30 pm (1130 GMT) and saw the perpetrators pull out knives and a gun as two gurus visiting from India gave a sermon at the temple, where some 200 people had gathered.

Others in the audience pounced on the attackers, who a witness said were wearing yellow and blue turbans, and subdued them, according to police.

"Six people did not agree" with the sermon, police spokesman Michael Takacs told Austrian public radio. "One drew a firearm, the others knives. The six people were overpowered by members of the community and seriously injured."

Two of the wounded attackers were in critical condition after being shot in the head, Takacs added.

The two gurus, Sant Niranjan Dass, 66, and Sant Rama Nand, 56, of the Shri Guru Ravidas Sabha movement, were among those shot. A police spokesman said they were in stable condition on Sunday evening after undergoing surgery.

Dass was hit in the abdomen and hip, while Nand was struck in the abdomen and back.

Some victims were hit in the stomach and legs by bullets, and the injured were taken away aboard three helicopters for treatment.

"I was outside when it happened and I only heard the shots," a 21-year-old witness said. "My uncle was hit by a knife on his left side, another man in the eye."

A total of 11 people were seriously injured, said Bernhard Segal, a rescue services spokesman.

Two other attackers were seriously hurt, while the remaining two were more lightly injured and in police custody.

Officers had recovered at least three spent cartridges inside the temple and sealed off the surrounding area.

The violence resulted from a dispute between different temples in the Austrian capital, Kumar Balvinder, vice president of the temple where the attack occurred, told Austrian news agency APA.

The temple, which opened in December 2005, has protested the caste system that remains popular among some Sikhs. It has also been accused of not strictly following Sikh traditions.

Balvinder said that the head of another temple in Vienna had warned that violence could break out due to the visit. He added that the information had been passed along to police.

"We have nothing to do with that," the head of the other temple said Sunday night.

Followers of the temple where the incident occurred had previously clashed with several other Sikh temples in the city, and other communities were opposed to the arrival of the gurus, a person at the scene, Jasuf Kalder, told APA.

"All the people implicated (in the incident) have been arrested," a police spokesman in Vienna told AFP, without specifying the number of arrests.

According to the latest figures, the Sikh religious community has tens of thousands of followers in Austria and some 25 million worldwide, most of them in northern India.

In India, rioters were reported to have pelted stones at buses and to have set a bus, truck and shops ablaze. Protesters were further reported to have blocked a road in Phagwara, also in Punjab. No one was reported injured.