India suspends six police, government officials for stampede that killed 121

By Saurabh Sharma and Shivam Patel

LUCKNOW, India (Reuters) - Indian authorities have suspended six police and government officials after a stampede that killed 121 people last week, accusing them of "negligence" in handling the event featuring a Hindu preacher.

One of India's worst stampedes in recent years took place after about a quarter of a million people flocked to listen to a self-styled guru, far in excess of the number of 80,000 authorities had permitted.

Tuesday's preliminary findings of a panel investigating the incident held the event organisers responsible, saying they failed to meet conditions set for the gathering.

"The organisers obtained permission for the event by concealing facts," the government of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh said in a statement, citing the findings of the panel it set up to look into the matter.

"They did not make adequate and smooth arrangements despite inviting an unexpected crowd, nor did they comply with the conditions set by the local administration."

In response, A.P. Singh, a lawyer for the preacher, denied wrongdoing by organisers, saying they did not conceal anything from authorities, adding instead that the stampede was part of a conspiracy by "anti-social elements" whom he did not identify.

Police have arrested nine people involved in organising the event, Singh said.

The government said the panel had not ruled out "the possibility of a major conspiracy behind the accident", but it needed further investigation.

A senior district official in Hathras, the site of the incident, gave permission for the event without inspecting the venue, the state government added.

Local government and police officials did not take the event seriously and did not inform senior officials about it, the government said in its statement.

"They have been held responsible for negligence in performing their duties," it added.

The crush happened when devotees ran after the preacher's departing car, trampling over one another to seek his blessings and get a closer look at him.

(Reporting by Saurabh Sharma in Lucknow and Shivam Patel in New Delhi; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)