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Indian guru charged with rape

Supporters' demonstrations turn violent

Indian guru charged with rape

Asaram Bapu is seen being escorted by police (STRDEL / AFP)

Protests have erupted in several Indian cities in support of a popular spiritual guru who was arrested and charged with rape on Sunday.

Asaram Bapu is accused of the assault on a 16-year-old girl in his ashram. The 72-year-old sage, who runs ashrams across the country, was taken by police to Jodhpur city in Rajasthan, where the incident allegedly took place.

His supporters claim however that the charges are part of a conspiracy to malign his name. Crowds blocked roads after the first media reports emerged of his arrest.

In Mumbai, protesters also halted trains and disrupted traffic. In the Chhattisgarh state capital of Raipur, supporters attacked journalists, policemen and passers-by.

Jodhpur commissioner of police, Biju Gorge Joseph, told media that medical experts conducted a potency test on Bapu and confirmed he was physically capable of committing the crime, despite his claims to the contrary.

The influential Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindus' Council) has termed the arrest an "anti-Hindu" act by the Congress-led coalition government in New Delhi.

Vishwa leader Ashok Singhal told media in Hyderabad on Sunday that the arrest was an insult to Hindus. "This is not about his arrest. This is telling the Hindu community that we will finish your feelings of respect towards a religious leader," he said.

Bapu had also accused Congress president Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born Christian widow of late Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, of hatching a conspiracy against him.

The pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the principal opposition party, has however been cautious in its reaction. "The law should take its course," BJP vice president and lawmaker Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi told

Congress leaders have ruled out any political motive behind the arrest. Rajasthan Chief Minister and Congress leader Ashok Gehlot said police should be allowed to do "a job of unbiased investigation. We want whoever is guilty to be punished."

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