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Protests against arrest of one of top rivals of Indian Prime Minister Modi continue for second day

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NEW DELHI (AP) — Hundreds of protesters in India’s capital took to the streets for a second day Saturday, demanding the immediate release of one of the top rivals of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as the country gears up for a national election next month.

Arvind Kejriwal, New Delhi’s top elected official and one of the country’s most consequential politicians of the past decade, was arrested by the federal Enforcement Directorate Thursday night. The agency, controlled by Modi’s government, accused his party and ministers of accepting 1 billion rupees ($12 million) in bribes from liquor contractors nearly two years ago.

His Aam Aadmi Party, or Common Man’s Party, denied the accusations and said Friday Kejriwal would remain Delhi’s chief minister as it took the matter to court.

Kejriwal was taken into custody for seven days following a court order on Friday.

Kejriwal’s wife, Sunita, had a message Saturday she said was from her detained husband. Posted on the AAP party X account, the message relayed Kerijwal as saying he wasn’t surprised by the arrest for he has “struggled a lot” and warning against “several forces within and outside India that are weakening the country.”

Chanting: “Kejriwal is Modi’s doom” and “Dictatorship won’t be tolerated,” protesters accused Modi on Saturday of governing the country under a state of emergency — a claim the opposition has long professed — and using federal law enforcement agencies to stifle opposition parties before the election.

APP leader and chief minister of neighboring Punjab state, Bhagwant Mann, joined the protest alongside some cabinet ministers.

“(Kejriwal’a arrest) is a murder of democracy,” Balbir Singh, Punjab’s health minister told The Associated Press. “For opposition leaders, jail is the rule and bail is the exception,” he added. Singh also accused Modi’s ruling party to “have turned the rule of law upside down.”

Lily Tiga, a protester said when “a person who does good, fights for truth, fights for the downtrodden and poor is arrested, it’s not only unfortunate, it is a time to mourn for this country.”

Some demonstrators tried to move the protest to the main street in central Delhi. But police, some in riot gear, blocked them and detained at least three dozen protesters.

On Friday, hundreds of AAP supporters and some senior party leaders clashed with the police, who whisked a number of them away in buses.

In the lead-up to the general election , starting April 19, India’s opposition parties have accused the government of misusing its power to harass and weaken its political opponents, pointing to a spree of raids, arrests and corruption investigations against key opposition figures. Meanwhile, some probes against erstwhile opposition leaders who later defected to Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party have been dropped.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, denies targeting the opposition and says law enforcement agencies act independently.

Kejriwal’s AAP is part of a broad alliance of opposition parties called INDIA, the main challenger to Modi’s BJP in the coming election.

His arrest is another setback for the bloc, and came after the country’s main opposition Congress party accused the government Thursday of freezing its bank accounts in a tax dispute to cripple it. This has led to a rare show of strength by the opposition figures who slammed the move as undemocratic and accused Modi’s party of misusing the agency to undermine them.

In 2023, the agency arrested Kejriwal’s deputy, Manish Sisodia, and AAP lawmaker Sanjay Singh as part of the same case. Both remain in jail.

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