At least 23 people have been killed in clashes that erupted after Indian police tried to evict members of a revolutionary sect that has occupied public land for the last two years.
Two police officers were among those died during clashes that broke out late Thursday in the northern city of Mathura.
Divisional commissioner Pradeep Bhatnagar said that 80 people, including 30 police officers were injured in the incident, adding that most of the injured have bullet wounds and are in critical condition.
Police was deployed to evict some 3,000 followers of the sect, known as Swadhin Bharat Vidhik Satyagrah, who had illegally occupied a park.
Police said armed people, who positioned themselves on tree-tops, opened fire on them and threw explosive devices at them.
“Twenty-one of the dead were extremists who attacked police and civil authorities with arms and bombs from inside the park. They were carrying automatic rifles and crude bombs and had fortified the area in a military style,” Bhatnagar also said.
He added that the sect wants to free “India from the present governance system including the abolition of the post of prime minister and president.”
A senior police officer said they were forced to respond with live fire after two police officers were shot dead.
“We had gone to clear the area but were fired upon by the miscreants. Two of our men died,” said Hari Ram Sharma, inspector general of police for Uttar Pradesh state, which is 150 kilometers east of the capital New Delhi.
He added that over 1,000 people were arrested and the area was sealed off.
The operation came after authorities won a court to evict hundreds of tents and wooden structures in the area the sect was occupying since 2014.
The sect’s followers said on social media that they are political and social revolutionaries.