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Opposition leaders on way to Sabarimala briefly blocked by police 

Nilackal (Kerala), November 20

Opposition Congress-led UDF workers staged a protest here on Tuesday demanding withdrawal of prohibitory orders in force in and around Sabarimala as police briefly stopped them from accompanying a delegation of their leaders to the Lord Ayyappa shrine to inspect facilities for devotees.

Police initially said they could not be allowed to visit the Lord Ayyappa temple in such large numbers in view of the prohibitory orders, but later permitted them.

The hill shrine, located about 20 km from here, has been witnessing intense protests by devotees against the implementation of the Supreme Court verdict permitting women of all age groups to offer prayers.

The government has clamped prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the CrPC banning assembly of four or more people in Sabarimala and surrounding areas in view of the protests.

The UDF delegation was heading to the hill shrine to take stock of the facilities amid reports that proper arrangements had not been made for the pilgrims, who would throng the temple during the ongoing two-month annual season.

The nine-member delegation demanded that all party workers accompanying them should be allowed to visit the temple while police said only senior leaders would be permitted in view of the prohibitory orders in place.

The leaders, including Leader of the Opposition in the state assembly Ramesh Chennithala, former chief minister Oommen Chandy, IUML leader MK Muneer and NK Premachandran MP, squatted on the road and demanded withdrawal of the ban order.

UDF activists raised “go back” slogans against police and chanted ‘swamiye saranam ayyappa’ mantras.

Police later allowed everyone to go to the shrine.

Superintendent of Police Yatish Chandra made it clear that there was no restriction for ordinary devotees to go to the hill shrine in the state-run KSRTC buses.

Urging the CPI(M)-led LDF government to withdraw the prohibitory orders in Sabariamla, Chennithala alleged they were trying to sabotage the Sabarimala pilgrimage.

“The invoking of prohibitory orders in Sabarimala amounted to violation of human rights. It should be withdrawn at the earliest. Every devotee has the right to go to Sabarimala and offer prayers,” he said.

Chandy slammed the Left front government for imposing restrictions at the shrine complex and claimed it had made the pilgrimage impossible for devotees.

The UDF leaders and party workers later proceeded to Pamba in a KSRTC bus en route to Sabarimala.

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