MANCHESTER: Several spectators were Tuesday handcuffed and ejected from Old Trafford during the first World Cup semi-final between India and New Zealand after mounting a political protest.

The fans were apparently Sikh separatists who wore T-shirts and held banners demanding a referendum on an independent homeland to be carved out of India.

“Ground security went into the stands and got the fans out of the stadium without much resistance and handed them over to the police,“ a policeman at the ground told AFP on condition on anonymity.

“There were four Sikh guys who were wearing T-shirts with some political message on them and it is not allowed.”

Police later confirmed two arrests were made, with both men released without charge.

“Two males were arrested for a breach of the peace, both have subsequently been released without charge,“ the statement read.

The statement did not clarify whether the men arrested were Sikh.

Expatriate Sikh separatists, who want to create a homeland of Khalistan in India’s northern Punjab state, have been holding rallies in England to promote their cause.

The World Cup has witnessed other political protests during matches, with the International Cricket Council distancing itself from all of them.

Banners reading “#Justice for Kashmir” and “India stop genocide & free Kashmir” were flown over Headingley during India’s match with Sri Lanka on Saturday.

It followed an earlier incident when a banner reading “Justice for Balochistan” was flown over the same ground in Leeds during the game between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The game’s governing body has said: “We do not condone any sort of political messages at the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup.” — AFP