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The BBC's Jill McGivering in Delhi
"This drama has gripped the Indian public"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 15 November, 2000, 12:58 GMT
Kidnapped Indian film star set free
Veerappan, negotiator RR Gopal, Rajkumar
Rajkumar (right) was held for more than 100 days
One of India's most dramatic hostage crises has come to an end with the release of top film star Rajkumar.

The star, aged 72, has been held in a forest hideout for more than three months by one of the country's most notorious bandits, Veerappan.


He is our living legend. We are so overcome with joy to hear that he has been released

Rajkumar fan, Mallikarjun
As news of Rajkumar's release spread, his fans gathered in the southern city of Bangalore to celebrate, setting off firecrackers and distributing sweets.

The veteran actor is said to be resting in the town of Erode, in the state of Tamil Nadu, before returning to his home state Karnataka.

The kidnap saga had gripped the Indian public and dominated media headlines for months.

In Bangalore, the star's fans danced outside his residence, carrying Rajkumar posters and chanting slogans.

"He is our living legend. We are so overcome with joy to hear that he has been released," one fan, Mallikarjun, said.

Rajkumar fans
Rajkumar's fans danced and celebrated
Police were forced to barricade Rajkumar's house to keep the fans at bay.

The news of the release was also greeted with relief by government officials who have faced considerable embarrassment over the hostage crisis.

"We have many lessons to learn from this experience," Karnataka Chief Minister, SM Krishna, said in Bangalore.

In Delhi, the release was confirmed by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee who described it as happy news.

Deadlock

It is as yet unclear whether any concessions were made to Veerappan to gain the star's release but officials say Rajkumar's health had caused concern.

Veerappan
Veerappan is India's most wanted man
The authorities in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu had been negotiating for the actor's freedom.

"It was psychological warfare between the governments and Veerappan. Perhaps he ran out of patience," the Karnataka chief minister said.

Veerappan had made several demands, including the release of dozens of jailed comrades.

The state governments made moves towards meeting those demands - but a plan to release the bandit's associates from prison was blocked by the Supreme Court.

The BBC's Jill McGivering in Delhi says that ruling appeared to cause a deadlock in the crisis.

Veerappan and his gang, said to number about 15, have terrorised police and forest authorities in three southern Indian states - Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala - for nearly two decades.

Now in his mid-50s, Veerappan is accused of killing more than 100 people and smuggling millions of dollars worth of sandalwood and ivory.

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See also:

07 Nov 00 | South Asia
India kidnap release blocked
14 Aug 00 | South Asia
Film star's family's plea to fans
01 Aug 00 | South Asia
Kidnap drama paralyses Bangalore
31 Jul 00 | South Asia
Bandit kidnaps top film star
31 Jul 00 | South Asia
A ruthless and daring bandit
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