Police Remove Indian Yoga Guru from Hunger Strike

Hundreds of police officers swooped down Sunday on the venue of a hunger strike by a charismatic Indian yoga guru and forcibly removed him and thousands of his supporters.

Officers detained Baba Ramdev for security reasons, but later released him, said Rajan Bhagat, a police spokesman in the Indian capital, New Delhi.

Saffron-robed and bearded Ramdev and tens of thousands of his supporters went on hunger strikes across India and in several cities in the United States, Europe and Africa on Saturday in a campaign to try to root out India's endemic corruption.

The police clampdown early Sunday came within hours of both the government and Ramdev announcing an agreement on steps to battle corruption.

Police said they had given permission to Ramdev to hold a yoga function with 5,000 people. "More than 40,000 people had turned up at the venue, and it was not possible to provide security to them," Bhagat told The Associated Press.

Television channels reported that police sealed off the venue of the hunger strike and used canes to disperse Ramdev's followers, causing injuries to some people. Hundreds of people were still in the area defying police orders.

Bhagat said police did not use force, but asked people to go home.

For years, Ramdev, a wildly energetic man with the cascade of black hair, 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.

His promise: health and happiness.

Ramdev chanted Hindu religious hymns and performed yoga exercises Saturday before starting his hunger strike, which critics said undermined the country's democratic institutions.

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 he would soon give Ramdev a written assurance. But later he criticized the guru for continuing the protest despite an agreement with the government.