India-Pakistan ties hit new low as Sarabjit dies; state-level cremation on Friday
Amritsar: The body of Sarabjit Singh, who succumbed to injuries sustained in a murderous attack by inmates in a Pakistani jail, was flown in here Thursday night amidst an outrage across the country even as he was virtually accorded a martyr`s status.
The body of 49-year-old Sarabjit was brought from Lahore by a special Air India aircraft and will be handed over to his family at village Bikhiwind for a state funeral tomorrow.
It was a grim end to the battle waged by Sarabjit`s family to secure his release after he had spent over two decades in Pakistani jails as the plane landed at Rajasansi Airport where political leaders, including Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal and Minister of State for External Affairs Preneet Kaur, were present to receive the body.
Doctors at the Jinnah hospital in Lahore where Sarabjit was admitted last Friday said he died at 1.30 AM (IST) today following a cardiac arrest after being comatose for nearly a week.
Sarabjit, the second Indian prisoner to die in Pakistan`s notorious Kot Lakhpat jail in Lahore this year, was brutally attacked on Friday last by six fellow inmates when he and other prisoners were brought out of their cells for a break.
Punjab government has announced a financial assistance of Rs one crore for the family of Sarabjit and declared a three-day state mourning.
Flags will fly half mast on all government buildings and there will be no official ceremonial functions during this period, an official spokesman said.
Centre also announced exgratia payment of Rs 25 lakh for Sarabjit`s family from Prime Minister`s Relief Fund.
In Delhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh regretted that Pakistan had not heeded pleas for taking a humanitarian view on the Sarabjit case.
In a strong statement, Singh underlined that the criminals responsible for "the barbaric and murderous attack must be brought to justice".
A day after she returned from Lahore after having a glimpse of Sarabjit, an emotional Dalbir Kaur, his sister, who has been fighting for his release, said successive governments in the country have failed to bring back her brother who was a victim of mistaken identity.
Sarabjit was convicted of alleged involvement in bomb attacks in Punjab province that killed 14 people in 1990 and spent about 22 years in Pakistani prisons.
His mercy petitions were rejected by the courts and former President Pervez Musharraf.
The previous Pakistan Peoples Party-led government put off Sarabjit`s execution for an indefinite period in 2008.
Angry protests broke out in Sarabjit native Bhikhiwind village with villagers lashing out at Pakistani authorities for the deadly attack on him.
Shouting anti-Pakistan slogans, several villagers burnt Pakistani flags to register their protest.
During their protest demonstrations, the villagers charged Pakistan with murdering Sarabjit. They also hit out at Pakistani authorities for not shifting Sarabjit to some other country for "proper treatment."
Meanwhile, a second autopsy was conducted tonight by a team of six doctors at the government-run Amritsar Medical college to know the cause of his death. The first post mortem was carried out at the Jinnah Hospital in Lahore.
In Chandigarh, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal demanded an independent probe by an international agency into the circumstances leading to Sarabjit`s death.
Badal also criticised the Centre`s approach towards the matter.
"Government of India too dithered and dilly-dallied in reacting to the attack on him (Sarabjit). Was enough done to save him? Steps by government of India to secure his release earlier were weak and totally inadequate," he said in a statement.
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