Police fire tear gas to break up guru's protest

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The Independent Online

Police fired tear gas yesterday to break up a hunger strike by a charismatic Indian yoga guru who is calling for an end to endemic state corruption. Officers forcibly removed him and thousands of his followers from a tent in New Delhi.

An ensuing stampede by angry, rock-throwing supporters of Baba Ramdev injured more than 60 people, including 23 police.

Rajan Bhagat, a spokesman for the New Delhi force, said officers detained Mr Ramdev, who has millions of followers across India, for security reasons.

"More than 40,000 people had turned up at the venue, and it was not possible to provide security to them," added Mr Bhagat. Mr Ramdev was later released and flew to the northern Indian town of Dehradun near his sprawling ashram, or spiritual headquarters. The guru said he would continue his hunger strike and organise nationwide protests this week against the police action. "It's a blot on democracy and a conspiracy to kill me," he said.

He accused Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government of reneging on a promise to take swift action against Indians who have stashed millions of dollars illegally in safe havens abroad. The bearded guru also claimed that he managed to evade officers for nearly two hours by dressing in women's clothes – a loose white shirt and trousers – during the police raid.

Mr Ramdev and tens of thousands of supporters began hunger strikes on Saturday across India and in several cities in the US, Europe and Africa. The police clampdown early yesterday came hours after the government and Mr Ramdev announced an agreement on steps to battle corruption.