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Over 600 Amarnath pilgrims court arrest

Jammu: At least 600 Amarnath-bound pilgrims, led by Vishva Hindu Parishad workers, today courted arrest after they were prevented from proceeding towards the hill shrine by the state administration. Date of the yatra was fixed June 25 by the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB), however, the pilgrims tried to start the yatra from today defying the prohibitory orders clamped to deter them.

Around six hundred pilgrims from different parts of the country, including the members of VHP and few saints, assembled at Parade area of the city early this morning to leave for the cave shrine of Amarnath in South Kashmir, police said. Police took them to the Yatra Nivas in Bhagwati Nagar here after a couple of hours-long protest, officials said.

The protesters were released in the evening, they added. Among the arrested were, VHP state president, Ramakant Dubey, BJP state secretary Sat Sharma besides Bhartya Janta Yuva Morcha president Manish Sharma. The devotees urged the government to extend the duration of the yatra to two months starting from Jayeshth Purnima, tomorrow.

They accused the government and the Board of "deliberately" trying to curtail the period of the pilgrimage. VHP national spokesperson Surinder Jain demanded Governor`s resignation following today`s incident, saying "being the chairman of the Board it was his responsibility to start the yatra from Jayeshth Purnima, which he has failed to do."

He said that their "campaign will continue till it reaches its logical conclusion." Jain said that devotees from different district centres will march towards the cave shrine tomorrow and if stopped by the administration they will court arrest again. He also informed that BJP leaders, JP Nadda and Tarun Vijay will join the devotees here tomorrow and Mahamandaleshwar Divyanand will lead the yatra.

We are still open to the talks if the Board comes up with some measures, he said. Jain also said he will challenge the state administration for calling today`s yatra as un-constitutional. The Board has scheduled the yatra from June 25, as the routes to the holy shrine were still to be covered with the snow and arrangements were still not there for the smooth conduct of the yatra.

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