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Queen Elizabeth arrives in India; apology not on agenda

Protests in New Delhi October 12, 1997
Web posted at: 3:27 p.m. EDT (1927 GMT)

NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- Queen Elizabeth II on Sunday began her first visit to India in nearly 15 years, with protesters calling on her to apologize for the 1919 massacre of hundreds of Indians by British troops.

The queen plans to visit a monument in the city of Amritsar where British forces killed 379 Indian civilians who had gathered in a courtyard for a political rally.

Relatives of the victims and others have held numerous protests throughout the country -- the latest on Sunday outside the British High Commission office in New Delhi -- demanding an official apology from the queen.

Britain's high commissioner to India, David Gore-Booth, said last week the queen plans to lay a wreath at the site but would not offer an apology.

"It's not enough to lay a wreath. A few words from the queen would help heal old wounds," said Bhushan Behl, who heads a committee formed by relatives of those killed in the massacre.

In 1919, Gen. Reginald Dyer ordered soldiers to fire on unarmed civilians listening to Indian leaders campaigning for independence in a courtyard with only one gate. More than 1,000 people also were injured in the assault, which Dyer said he ordered to prevent an uprising. He was later exonerated by his British superiors.

The queen's weeklong visit marks the third time she has visited India since 1947 when the nation gained independence from Britain.

During her visit to Amritsar about 280 miles (450 km) northwest of New Delhi, the queen plans to visit the 400-year-old Golden Temple, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs. The queen also will visit the southern cities of Madras and Cochin.

Security during the queen's visit will be tight in view of the protests and fears of bomb threats. Police are still investigating the explosions caused by three bombs that went off in New Delhi over the weekend, killing one person and injuring 16 others.

Copyright 1997 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

 
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