Booker-Prize winning author Salman Rushdie cancelled plans to appear at an Indian literature festival today after protests from Muslim clerics and warnings that he could be targeted for assassination.
Rushdie's planned appearance at the Jaipur Literary Festival had reawakened the long dormant controversy over his 1988 book The Satanic Verses, which some Muslims consider blasphemous.
He spent years in hiding after Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini called for his death for writing the book, which was also banned in India.
In recent weeks, the head of the influential Darul Uloom seminary urged the Indian government to bar Rushdie from the festival, and the chief minister of the state of Rajasthan, where Jaipur is located, said Rushdie should stay away because of security concerns.
Organisers of the five-day festival, which began today, postponed an event with Rushdie that had been planned for the first day, but still hoped he would attend.
But today they read out a statement from the British-Indian author saying he had decided to cancel his trip after being informed by intelligence sources that "paid assassins from the Mumbai underworld may be on their way to Jaipur to 'eliminate' me".
"While I have some doubts about the accuracy of this intelligence, it would be irresponsible of me to come to the festival in such circumstances," he said.
The controversy over Rushdie's attendance clouded the opening of the festival, which will be attended by tens of thousands of people who have come to see Oprah Winfrey and literary stars such as Michael Ondaatje, Tom Stoppard and Annie Proulx.
William Dalrymple, an author and an organiser of the festival, said: "It is tragic."
Organisers said they hoped to be able to hold an event with Rushdie via video conferencing.
Organiser Sanjoy Roy said: "We are trying to work out the technical details of this. Most likely it is going to happen."
The 64-year-old author attended the annual festival in 2007 without incident.