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The BBC's Mike Wooldridge
"India continues to be consumed by the video tapes"
 real 56k

Former Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes
"There is no corruption of the kind that is being made out"
 real 28k

Congressman Pranab Mukherjee
"The government has lost its moral authority"
 real 28k

Friday, 16 March, 2001, 02:29 GMT
Scandal shakes Indian Government
The arms bribery scandal has sparked outrage in Delhi
Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes has resigned over the country's unfolding arms bribery scandal.

George Fernandes
Opposition parties and newspaper demanded Mr Fernandes' resignation
In a televised statement, he said he had handed in a letter of resignation to the prime minister and asked him to order an inquiry into the bribery allegations.

Mr Fernandes is the latest victim of a scandal that has rocked the ruling coalition government since the release of secretly filmed video footage implicating senior officials in corrupt arms deals.

Made by internet news website, the film has already claimed the scalp of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party's president, Bangaru Laxman.

Cracks in coalition

A key partner in the coalition, the Trinamool Congress, announced earlier it would withdraw from the government over allegations of corruption in the defence department.

George Fernandes
1930 - Born in Karnataka
1960s - Trade union leader in Bombay
1971-77 - Chairman, Bombay Socialist Party
1973-77 - President, All India Railwaymen's Federation, leading India's longest ever rail strike in 1974
1977 - As Industries Minister, forced the exit of multinational giants, Coca-Cola and IBM from India.
1994 - Left Janata Dal and formed the Samata Party
1998 - Joined BJP coalition as Defence Minister
Trinamool leader Mamata Banerjee had demanded the resignation of Mr Fernandes.

But a Trinamool spokesman said later that Mr Fernandes' resignation had not changed the party's decision to withdraw.

The government has a fairly comfortable majority in the 545-seat lower house, so even with the loss of Trinamool's nine deputies it could still survive a confidence motion.

But correspondents say the move leaves Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee vulnerable to the demands of other parties in the coalition.

The Trinamool Congress, which is facing difficult elections in West Bengal next month, was the only member of the 17-month-old government not to offer Mr Fernandes its support.


Rival Indian MPs came close to exchanging blows outside the parliament building as the furore over a bribery scandal continued for a second day.

Atal Behari Vajpayee
Prime Minister Vajpayee could be left with a slim majority
Uproar prevented proceedings in both houses after 30 MPs took their slanging match outside.

At one stage, security personnel formed a line between the two groups as they surged towards each other.

A spokesman said it was unlikely that the prime minister would go ahead with a planned address to parliament.

With the exception of Ms Banerjee, coalition leaders agreed there was no need for any minister to resign over a secretly shot film showing senior public figures apparently accepting money from journalists posing as arms dealers.

High profile scalp

Bangaru Laxman rejected the allegations against him but resigned after the film showed him apparently taking 100,000 rupees ($2,150) from the website's journalists to influence a fictional deal to supply the army with thermal imaging cameras.

The Defence Ministry also suspended four officials implicated in the documentary and questioned several other senior officers.

The United News of India quoted one of the two journalists who secretly filmed more than 100 hours of footage as saying that he and his wife had received death threats.

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See also:

15 Mar 01 | South Asia
Indian opposition capitalises on crisis
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Scandal threatens Indian coalition
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Heads roll in India bribery scandal
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The Tehelka tapes
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