- Associated Press - Sunday, June 5, 2011

NEW DELHI — Indian police fired tear gas early Sunday to break up a hunger strike by a charismatic yoga guru demanding an end to endemic corruption, forcibly removing him and thousands of his followers.

An ensuing stampede by angry, rock-throwing supporters of Baba Ramdev injured more than 60 people, including 23 police officers, said Dharmendra, a senior New Delhi officer who uses one name.

Police said officers detained Mr. Ramdev, who has millions of followers across India on a daily television show, 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 Rajan Bhagat, a police spokesman in New Delhi.

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

The guru said he will 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.

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

Hours before the police clampdown early Sunday, the government and Mr. 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 Mr. Ramdev’s followers, injuring some people. Television images showed police firing tear gas and people attacking security forces with stones.

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

For years, Mr. Ramdev has contorted his body through a series of complex yoga poses, drawing tens of millions of people to his television show.

As he launched the hunger strike Saturday, he vowed to battle the pervasive culture of corruption in a country where attempts to get a driver’s license or set up a business involve paying bribes.

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

Mr. 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.

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