Protests, unruly scenes mar Annual Haj Conference in Delhi

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New Delhi, Apr 2 (UNI) Ugly scenes marred the proceedings of the All India Annual Haj Conference here with delegates protesting over the ''lack of basic facilities'' for Indian pilgrims in Saudi Arabia.

A sudden commotion erupted soon after Union Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel finished his speech at the Conference, held at India Islamic Cultural Centre here.

Chairpersons of some State Haj Committees got up to highlight the problems faced by the Haj pilgrims in Saudi Arabia due to ''mismanagement'' of the Indian officials engaged in the task.

As Mr Patel refused to get engaged in any sort of discussion or debate over it, the protestors started shouting slogans.

The slogan-shouting intensified when the Minister left the venue without answering the queries of the protestors.

Mr Patel was seen scolding a delegate who confronted him while leaving the venue in a rush to attend a meeting called by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The situation turned ugly when Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahamed tried to cool down the rising tempers with angry protestors turning their guns on him.

Chanting slogans, they demanded his resignation from the Union Council of Ministry and also refused to listen to him.

To register their protest, some of the delegates also left the auditorium to boycott the function.

However, Haj Committee of India chairman Iqbal Ahmed Saradgi and other senior officials pacified the protestors and escorted them back to the auditorium.

The third time the proceedings were disrupted was when External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee oncluded his speech after inaugurating the Conference.

A delegate rose on his feet, displaying a copy of a Hindi daily which had carried out a story today on the personal website of India's Consul General in Saudi Arabia Ausaf Sayeed, alleging that it carried an advertisement for the sale of controversial author Salman Rushdie's books, including Satanic Verses.

He alleged that the website -- www.ausafsayeed.com -- was indulging in online sale of Mr Rushdie's books.

This led to ruckus in the auditorium with other delegates joining him in seeking Mr Sayeed's resignation as Consul General.

Mr Mukherjee did not answer any of the questions posed by the delegates about the advertisement and later left the venue.

UNI AG RR RN1539

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