India's 'Bandit King' wins ransom demands

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The Independent Online

Hopes that the Indian film star held hostage in the jungles of Karnataka for the past week may soon be freed were raised yesterday when the chief ministers of two southern Indian states agreed to meet several of his kidnapper's demands.

Hopes that the Indian film star held hostage in the jungles of Karnataka for the past week may soon be freed were raised yesterday when the chief ministers of two southern Indian states agreed to meet several of his kidnapper's demands.

Rajkumar, the 72-year-old star of more than 200 garish melodramas and the biggest idol alive for millions of filmgoers in the state of Karnataka, was seized with two other men by the legendary jungle bandit Veerappan last Sunday.

The kidnapping sparked riots in the Karnataka capital, Bangalore, which is also the centre of India's booming IT industry. Most of the violence was directed at Tamils. Veerappan, whose jungle domain straddles the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, is a Tamil and is increasingly identified with Tamil separatist causes.

Yesterday the chief ministers of the two southern states, Muthuvel Karunanidhi of Tamil Nadu and SM Krishna of Karnataka, met in the Tamil Nadu capital, Chennai (Madras), and agreed to several of Veerappan's demands. These included the release of Tamils accused of terrorist acts, compensation for villagers allegedly harassed by police, and the unfreezing of a judicial commission investigating atrocities committed by security forces.

Local newspapers reported yesterday that Veerappan had demanded a ransom of 500 million rupees (£7.5m). The chief ministers denied that he had made any such claim.

Instead, the 54-year-old "forest brigand", accused of the murder of 120 people - and also some 2,000 elephants - submitted an intensely political list, including the erection in Bangalore of a statue of a Tamil poet, to which the chief ministers also agreed.

Veerappan has repeatedly sought an amnesty in the past, but some analysts believe India's Robin Hood has now set his sights on following the "Bandit Queen" Phoolan Devi into parliament.

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