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Stampede at Sonia rally kills worker

Hyderabad, Feb. 28: Sonia Gandhi’s three-hour Hyderabad visit this evening was marred by the death of a Congress worker in a stampede at her rally, and an attack on the party headquarters by a Dalit group.

Earlier, the Opposition Telugu Desam Party and Praja Rajyam — which held street protests against the state’s Congress government — made abortive attempts to stop her motorcade.

Some 50,000-odd people had been waiting near the rally venue since morning, held back by heavy security. As soon as Sonia arrived, police let the crowd in, causing a stampede just when she was climbing up the dais.

A party supporter died and over 20 people were injured, but the stampede had happened some way from the dais and the rally was disrupted for only five minutes.

Around the same time, activists of the Madiga Reservation Porata Samiti attacked Gandhi Bhavan, 6km away, setting fire to furniture and injuring several workers.

Earlier, police had prevented the Dalit group — agitating for years for the classification of the Scheduled Castes into sub-categories — from waylaying Sonia’s convoy or disrupting the rally.

Last night, over 1,000 Madiga activists had been taken into preventive custody after attacking government offices and torching public buses during the week.

Some 100 Praja Rajyam supporters were detained for trying to stop Sonia’s motorcade, and 50 Desam activists arrested for trying to force their way into Begumpet airport, where she arrived on a defence flight from Port Blair.

She unveiled a statue of Indira Gandhi near the secretariat and then addressed the rally at the Parade Ground.

Her speech, however, disappointed many party leaders and workers who had expected her to announce the Congress would promptly grant statehood to Telengana if voted to power. Sonia, instead, chose to focus on the all-round development achieved by chief minister Y.S.R. Reddy.

On Telengana, she merely said the Congress was not against statehood but wanted to pursue that objective through the proper means.

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