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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 November, 2004, 15:06 GMT
Court date set for Hindu cleric
VHP members lash with police over cleric's arrest, Hyderabad
The arrest has sparked protests across the country
A revered Hindu leader arrested in southern India on murder charges last week faces a further court appearance after a bail hearing on Wednesday.

Jayendra Saraswathi denies killing a worker at the 2,500-year-old Kanchi Shankara Mutt temple he heads.

His arrest last week has sparked several days of protests among hardline Hindus across the country.

Magistrates hearing a petition against his detention have summoned him to appear in court in person on Thursday.

Mr Saraswathi, also known as the Shankaracharya of Kanchi, is the head of a sect of India's Hindu Brahmin community and the leader of the Kanchi Shankara Mutt, an influential religious establishment.

He was jailed in Tamil Nadu state and charged with killing a former accountant at his temple in the town of Kanchipuram on 3 September.

His application for bail will be heard on Wednesday.

Saraswathi flanked by security guards at magistrates court in Kancheepuram

Former minister and leader of the Hindu nationalist BJP party, Murli Manohar Joshi, visited the venerated guru in prison on Tuesday and added his voice to calls that he be released.

Mr Joshi criticised the police for treating Mr Saraswathi as an ordinary criminal and said he should be freed as he had agreed to co-operate with police.

Former defence minister George Fernandes also visited Mr Saraswathi and called his arrest a violation of human rights.

Call for calm

Mr Saraswathi's successor, Sri Vijendra Sarawati, took charge of the Kanchi establishment on Tuesday.

He called for calm, but did not comment further on his leader's detention.

Reports say priests at the Kanchi Shankara Mutt have written to Indian Home Minister Shivraj Patil asking for the Central Bureau of Investigation to probe the circumstances of Mr Saraswathi's arrest.

Entrance to the Kanchi Shankara Mutt, Kanchipuram
The Kanchi Shankara Mutt is an influential Hindu establishment
His supporters have been staging protests and hunger strikes demanding his release.

The hardline Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP, World Hindu Council) said that Mr Saraswathi's arrest was a "grave attack on the Hindu community".

Indian newspapers say the law should take its own course in the case.

"It is... necessary to guard against rash exhortations by individuals and organisations to paint the Kanchi seer's arrest as a diabolical conspiracy against Hinduism," said The Indian Express newspaper.

Murder charge

Police say Mr Saraswathi has been charged with murder and criminal conspiracy.

Mr Saraswathi's lawyer has described the charges as baseless.

The BBC's Sampath Kumar in Madras says the dead former employee, Sankararaman, was a strong critic of the religious leader.

Our correspondent says the arrest was a shock because the Tamil Nadu government headed by J Jayalalitha was considered to be close to Mr Saraswathi.

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