Protesters burn Clinton effigy hours before his arrival

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The Independent Online

Protesters in India burned an effigy of U.S. President Bill Clinton Sunday, hours before he was scheduled to arrive for a five-day visit to the country.

"Death to Bill Clinton. Death to the imperialism of multinationals," chanted the crowd as a man poured kerosine over the straw and cloth effigy and set it aflame.

Although most Indians welcome Clinton's visit, the first by an American president in 22 years, several nationalist and communist groups oppose it, saying Clinton will push U.S. economic interests at the cost of India's.

The groups also fear India will be pressured to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, a global nuclear test ban agreement most nuclear powers of the world haven't signed or ratified.

Protesters said Clinton's effigy was burned as part of the traditional Hindu practice of Holika Dahan, or the "Burning of Holika," a day before Holi, the spring festival of colors. Holi will be celebrated across India on Monday, Mar. 20 when Clinton makes a day trip to Bangladesh.

According to legend, Holika, the sister of a dreaded demon, was burned to death when she tried to devour a child devotee of Vishnu, one of three highest ranking gods in the Hindu pantheon.

Meanwhile, Indian police in the northern region of Kashmir lobbed tear gas and beat back a group of separatists hoping to reach the Indian capital and draw attention to their cause during Clinton's visit.

Prominent separatist leader Shabir Shah was arrested along with 15 supporters. They were dragged to a police jeep and whisked away.

A dozen militant groups are fighting Indian security forces in Kashmir, vying either for independence or to join neighboring Pakistan. Last year, the two countries came close to a third war over the Himalayan region, which is divided between them along a tense cease-fire line.

Before his arrest, Shah said of Clinton: "We want him to put pressure on India to stop human rights abuses in Kashmir."