April 13, 2006

Five killed as India tech hub buries film icon

BANGALORE, India (Reuters) - Police opened fire in India's
technology hub on Thursday, killing four people as tens of
thousands of fans mourning the death of a film icon torched
vehicles and attacked company offices.

Police said that an officer was earlier beaten to death as
film actor Rajkumar's cortege made its way through the streets
of Bangalore. One man died of bullet wounds after police opened
fire in self-defense when mobs attacked their bus.

Three people were killed after the funeral as police fired
at a mob enraged at not being able to attend the service.

The body of the 77-year-old actor, who died on Wednesday
after a heart attack, was buried with state honors at a film
studio owned by his family on the city's outskirts.

Violent mourners clashed with police, set vehicles on fire
and damaged shops along the route of the procession. Hundreds
of fans threw flower petals as the body was lowered into the

Rajkumar's son Raghvendra implored fans to maintain calm
but his words had little effect. Fans kept away from the grave
were seen throwing stones at passing vehicles and police.

Officers had earlier retaliated with tear gas and
baton-charges as thousands converged on a stadium in Bangalore,
home to major Indian and international technology firms, where
the actor's body had been put on view in a transparent coffin.

The state government of Karnataka announced a public
holiday to mark the actor's passing. Schools, shops, cinema
halls were shut for the day and few buses were running.

Leading IT companies -- including Wipro, iGATE and Infosys,
India's second-largest software company, along with
multinationals Microsoft, Dell Inc and IBM -- said they would
stay closed on Thursday.

"Most companies are forced to close. Nobody wants to take a
chance," an official at a multinational firm told Reuters on
the condition that that the person and company not be named.
"Offices that are open get stoned. This is bad for Bangalore's
international image."

Offices belonging to AXA, a leading French insurance firm,
and Microsoft were pelted with stones, company officials told


Police had to cane unruly fans surging to have a glimpse of
their icon as they attempted to restore order at the stadium
while thousands of fans, including women and children, stood in
long queues to pay homage.

At least 10 police officers were injured, and 50 to 70
vehicles were vandalized, police said.

Some were bemused by the violence.

"It is a natural death. Why are the fans getting violent?
It is out of fear people are closing shops," said a street
vendor near one of the city's main bus terminals.

Others were emotional.

"Our hero is dead. Annavaru (elder brother) was our
inspiration," said Hanumanthaiah, a fan paying his last
respects at the stadium.

Drivers pasted pictures of the actor to their windows in
the hope of avoiding the mob's attention. Cable television
companies blocked entertainment channels to mark a day of

Karnataka's chief minister, H.D. Kumaraswamy, appealed for
calm. "By resorting to violence, you will only be showing
disrespect to the great actor," he said.

Rajkumar starred in more than 200 Kannada-language films
over five decades. He soon gained a fiercely devoted following
amongst fans for roles ranging from police to gods.

He found fame outside his home state of Karnataka after
being kidnapped by notorious jungle bandit Veerappan in 2000.
He spent 108 days at Veerappan's hideout before a release was