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Asia-pacific

Delhi's chief minister ends street protest

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-01-21

Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal on Tuesday called off his sit-in protest that has seen him run the city from a pavement for two days.

The protest had its roots in accusations of police corruption, progressed to a demand that the federal government hand over control of the police to the city and grew to take in a demand that Delhi, the national capital, be granted full statehood.

The two-day demonstration snarled traffic and pushed police to seal subway stations. At one point on Tuesday, police clashed briefly with Kejriwal’s supporters. Television images showed a group of police punching and kicking one man after protesters toppled a barricade and surged through police lines at the rally. Other officers beat fallen protesters with sticks.

On Tuesday evening, Kejriwal told a crowd that two policemen he wanted suspended for misconduct would be sent on leave. He said that the lieutenant-governor of Delhi, an appointee of the central government, had appealed to him to end his protest, after it turned violent on Tuesday.

“After the lieutenant governor's appeal, we all have decided to end our protest here today," Kejriwal told a crowd of cheering supporters. "I'm very happy today. Today the people of Delhi have won. I want to congratulate the people of Delhi."

Overnight, the 44-year-old slept outside on a pavement under a thick blanket, awakening to rains and strong winds. Aides brought him files for the administration of the city of 22 million as he sat with other members of the cabinet at the protest site, near the high-security area that houses the parliament and the presidency building.

His central demand was that the Delhi police, widely viewed as corrupt and inefficient, be transferred to his state government's control from the national home ministry.

As with other demands in the past by different chief ministers, the central government refused to agree because of Delhi's status as the national capital.

“This is the first step toward our goal of full statehood for Delhi,'' he told reporters, few of whom had known until then that he had been demanding statehood. Delhi is legally a “union territory,'' with only some of the powers of an Indian state.

“I am an anarchist'

Kejriwal, an anti-corruption campaigner, swept to power in Delhi last month. In a country that has been controlled for decades by immensely powerful political machines, but which also deeply distrusts politicians, Kejriwal is selling himself as something different.

“I am an anarchist,'' he told reporters at his protest.

Kejriwal, a one-time tax bureaucrat who at age 45 is the youngest chief minister in the city's history, created and leads the Aam Aadmi, or Common Man's, Party. He began his tenure by renouncing many of the job's perks, insisting he was determined to rid the capital of a culture of privilege.

He refused to move into one of Delhi's sprawling British-era bungalows in the tree-shaded central heart of the city. He disdained the police escorts that help the political elite and top bureaucrats speed through the gridlocked streets. He also turned down the usual phalanx of heavily armed bodyguards, saying grandly: “God is my security.''

He has cut the prices for electricity and water. He has not explained how he would make up for the financial shortfall in a city where the infrastructure is in desperate need of repairs.

Selling drugs

The roots of the protest go back to last week, when Delhi Law Minister Somnath Bharti, a key Kejriwal aide, marched with supporters into a neighbourhood with many African residents and ordered the police to arrest two Ugandan and two Nigerian women, accusing them of selling drugs. But the police refused to make the arrests, saying they had no warrants.

While Bharti has produced no evidence that the women were involved in any crimes, Kejriwal quickly backed him, accusing the police of protecting the city's drug and prostitution rackets.

He then called for the protests, demanding the suspension of the five policemen who refused to make the arrests.

"I am of the opinion and perhaps the public is also of the opinion that in any given area, at least 90 percent of the crime happens in connivance with the police," Kejriwal told supporters after emerging from his blanket on Tuesday the morning.

The issue of sexual assault

Kejriwal says the police, the focus of public fury after the fatal gang-rape of a student in December 2012, have failed to prevent crimes against women.

"We are committed to ensuring the security for women in Delhi. If any woman in Delhi is attacked, we will not sit quiet, we will raise our voice," he said Tuesday night.

Junior Home Minister R.P.N. Singh cancelled the leave of all Delhi police personnel, ordering them back to work.

If Kejriwal "is serious about the safety of Delhi, let these cops go back to policing,'' Singh said on Twitter early Tuesday.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP, REUTERS)
 

Date created : 2014-01-21

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