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 Wednesday, 22 January, 2003, 10:39 GMT
Stabbed US preacher flees India state
Joseph Cooper in hospital
Police gave Mr Cooper seven days to leave India
An American preacher stabbed last week by right-wing Hindus in Kerala in southern India has fled the state.

Bishop Joseph Cooper reportedly flew to Bombay, also known as Mumbai, as a court in Kerala was considering a petition barring him from leaving India.

Cooper's violation of visa rules does not absolve the attackers of their crime

Kerala Chief Minister AK Antony
Right-wing Hindus want Mr Cooper, 68, charged with denigrating Hindus in his sermons.

On Monday, police gave Mr Cooper seven days to leave the country.

They said he had violated the terms of his tourist visa by indulging in religious preaching.

Heading for US

Police spokesperson TK Vinod Kumar said: ''Joseph Cooper left the state of Kerala a few hours back. We do not know where he has gone or what his ultimate destination would be.''

Sources close to Mr Cooper said he had taken a scheduled flight to Bombay and would head home to the US from there.

Bombay
Bombay: Mr Cooper's gateway to the US?
Mr Cooper, an ordained bishop of the New Jerusalem church from Pennsylvania, was discharged from a hospital in the state capital, Trivandrum, on Tuesday after undergoing surgery for a deep cut on his right hand.

Chief Minister of Kerala, AK Antony, vowed that the case against Mr Cooper's attackers would ''take the normal course in law''.

''Cooper's violation of visa rules does not absolve the attackers of their crime,'' he said.

Sticks and bars

Mr Cooper was attacked on the outskirts of Trivandrum on 13 January.

Eyewitnesses said he was surrounded by an armed gang of 10 people as he was returning from a gospel convention organised by the Protestant Friends of the Bible Church.

The assailants used swords, sticks and iron bars.

A local pastor, his wife and two children and one other person were also injured.

Police have arrested 10 members of the hardline Hindu Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) over the attack.

The RSS denies involvement.

Following the police notice of deportation, a complaint was filed by K Sugathan, a local leader of the right-wing Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a religious affiliate of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party.

It called for Mr Coopers to be prosecuted under the Indian penal code for making derogatory remarks against Hindus.

A magistrate's court in Trivandrum will decide on Wednesday whether to charge Mr Cooper.

Lawyers told the BBC the preacher could face up to three years in jail if found guilty.

See also:

21 Jan 03 | South Asia
20 Jan 03 | South Asia
15 Jan 03 | South Asia
25 Dec 02 | South Asia
06 Dec 02 | South Asia
08 Jun 00 | South Asia
22 May 00 | South Asia
24 Feb 00 | South Asia
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