Kidnapped film star goes free

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The Independent Online

A popular Indian film star kidnapped more than three months ago by a notorious bandit has been released, news agencies reported today.

A popular Indian film star kidnapped more than three months ago by a notorious bandit has been released, news agencies reported today.

The 72-year-old actor, Rajkumar, was kidnapped from his vacation home in July along with three companions by Veerappan, who has eluded capture for more than two decades.

The actor, who starred in 210 Tamil language films, was freed late Tuesday after months of negotiations, India's two largest news agencies reported.

Veerappan, 56, is wanted for the deaths of 130 policemen, slaughtering elephants and felling thousands of sandalwood trees. He has achieved near-legendary status in southern India as an advocate of the poor and the minority Tamil group.

There were no immediate details about how Rajkumar was freed.

Veerappan, 56, who was seeking dlrs 12 million in ransom, had made mostly political demands for Rajkumar's freedom, including the release of 51 associates serving sentences for murder, sandalwood smuggling and poaching.

Last week, the Supreme Court blocked the state governments of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka from releasing the convicts.

Rajkumar is famous in southern India and there were riots when he was kidnapped. During his captivity, tapes of the actor were released and aired on television and radio. He said he was in good health and urged his supporters not to commit violence.

Rajkumar's son-in-law, S.A. Govindaraj, who had been kidnapped with him, was freed on 16 October. Another kidnap victim, a family friend, escaped on 28 September.

There was no immediate word on the third man who had been taken away with Rajkumar when Veerappan and his gang invaded their home in forested hills after a housewarming party on 30 July.

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