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Police break up Indian yoga guru's hunger strike

Hundreds of Indian police fired tear gas early Sunday to break up a hunger strike by a charismatic yoga guru seeking to root out endemic corruption, forcibly removing him and thousands of his supporters.

An ensuing stampede by angry, rock-throwing supporters of Baba Ramdev injured more than 60 people, including 23 policemen, said Dharmendra, a senior New Delhi police officer who uses one name. Most of the injured have been discharged from hospitals.

Police said officers detained Ramdev for security reasons.

"More than 40,000 people had turned up at the venue, and it was not possible to provide security to them," said , said Rajan Bhagat, a police spokesman in New Delhi..

Ramdev was later released and flew to the northern Indian town of Dehradun near his sprawling ashram, or spiritual headquarters, he said.

Ramdev said he would continue his hunger strike and organize 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.

He also said he evaded police for nearly two hours by dressing in women's clothes — a loose white shirt and trousers — during the police raid.

Ramdev and tens of thousands of supporters began hunger strikes Saturday across India and in several cities in the United States, Europe and Africa.

The police clampdown early Sunday came hours after the government and Ramdev announced an agreement on steps to battle corruption.

Television stations reported that police sealed off the venue and used tear gas and canes to disperse Ramdev's followers, injuring some people. Television images showed police firing tear gas and angry people attacking security forces with stones.

Dharmendra said Ramdev refused to leave the venue and asked women and other supporters to form a protective ring around him against police.

That led to a stampede, the police officer told reporters.

He also said that authorities decided to disperse Ramdev and his followers following intelligence that he might be attacked by terrorists and that the crowd was likely to swell to more than 100,000 against a capacity of 30,000 at the venue.

Nitin Gadkari, the president of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, condemned the police raid and said his party would hold countrywide protests.

For years, Ramdev has contorted his body through a series of complex yoga poses, drawing millions of people across India to gather in front of their televisions to follow his every move.

As he launched the hunger strike Saturday, he vowed to battle the pervasive culture of corruption in a country where everything from getting a driver's license to setting up a business involves paying bribes.

"There is a powerful anger in the people of this country. They want urgent action," he said.

Ramdev told his followers later Saturday that the government had agreed to his demands and that he was waiting for a written assurance before ending his protest.

His demands include immediate steps by the government to bring back millions of dollars illegally stashed abroad by Indians and the imposition of tough penalties on those who continue to put their money in safe havens.

Kapil Sibal, a government negotiator, said Saturday he would soon give Ramdev a written assurance. But he later criticized the guru for continuing the protest despite an agreement with the government.

That angered Ramdev, who announced that his hunger strike would continue until the government acted on its assurances.