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Delhi chief minister ends his anti-police protest after clashes

Source: Reuters - Tue, 21 Jan 2014 17:30 GMT
Author: Reuters
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A supporter of Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party (AAP) holds a portrait of Delhi's chief minister Arvind Kejriwal during a protest in New Delhi January 20, 2014 REUTERS/Ahmad Masood
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* Two officers sent on leave to defuse situation

* New party seeks national prominence ahead of vote

* Street politics divide public opinion (Recasts throughout with protest ending)

By Frank Jack Daniel

NEW DELHI, Jan 21 (Reuters) - Delhi's chief minister Arvind Kejriwal told his supporters to end anti-police protests that erupted in violence on Tuesday, saying the force had promised to take action over his accusations of negligence by officers.

A two-day sit-in led by Kejriwal in the heart of the capital triggered clashes between demonstrators and police and drew attention to the radical street politics of the former activist who is now shaking up a national election.

Delhi police said they had agreed to send two officers on leave who were at the centre of his allegations, to defuse the situation.

"The people of Delhi have won," Kejriwal told reporters, though his demands for the suspension of officers and shifting the central government-run force to his control were not met.

Earlier, television images showed a group of police punching and kicking one man after protesters toppled a barricade and surged through police lines. Other officers beat fallen protesters with sticks.

The clashes subsided quickly but prompted criticism that Kejriwal's style of campaigning was irresponsible and inflammatory. The standoff has been a headache for the central government as it prepares for a military parade on Sunday near the protest site, close to where top ministries are located.

The former anti-corruption activist was elected in December on promises of fixing a strong of problems faced by residents of the chaotic city of 16 million people.

The sit-in came just over a year after thousands of Delhi residents took to the streets to protest against the gang-rape of a trainee physiotherapist.

Kejriwal's one-year-old Aam Aadmi Party, or Common Man Party, is trying to take advantage of its success in Delhi to build a national presence ahead of a national election due by May.

Kejriwal launched the sit-in demonstration to protest against alleged inaction against crime by the city's police force, and spent the night sleeping outside at the protest site.

One of the officers sent on leave was in charge in the tourist area of Delhi where a Danish woman was allegedly gang-raped last week.

"This is an important step towards making the Delhi police accountable to the people of Delhi and the elected government of Delhi," Kejriwal told reporters.

GLOBAL CITY?

In the first three weeks in office, Kejriwal has transferred dozens of officials accused of graft, slashed electricity and water prices and refused the high-end housing and security that traditionally comes with the job.

But he has also been criticised for his style of governing, after a near stampede earlier in January blighted a meeting where he called on Delhi residents to air their grievances and one of his ministers was filmed shouting at police.

The anti-police sit-in divided opinion. Opponents called it anarchic and unseemly for an elected leader of a major city.

"Delhi aspires to becoming a global city," said Arun Jaitley, a leader of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. "This kind of behaviour that leads to anarchy, where there is complete rejection of the rule of law is totally unacceptable."

But the protest also tapped into deep anger with alleged police corruption and inaction in a city plagued by an epidemic of sex crimes.

"This kind of effort will increase the Aam Aadmi Party's chances nationally by increasing its visibility," said Arvind Gupta, a telecommunications engineer who took a day off work to go to join supporters at the protest site.

Kejriwal on Monday said he embraced the sobriquet of "anarchist" used by his critics, saying he wanted Delhi's political elite to feel the kind of anarchy that lawlessness brings to the lives of normal citizens.

His dispute with the police started last week, when one of his ministers was filmed arguing with officers during a night raid in a neighbourhood popular with African immigrants. Police refused to search a house the minister claimed was being used as a brothel, saying they did not have a warrant to go in. (Additional reporting by Malini Menon and Rajesh Kumar Singh; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani, Malini Menon and Ron Popeski)

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