Protesters take to streets against C'wealth Games

The Associated Press
Thursday, September 30, 2010; 8:59 AM

NEW DELHI -- Protesters took to the streets of the Indian capital Thursday for a second straight day of demonstrations, demanding a boycott of the Commonwealth Games that begin this weekend.

A coalition of more than 20 groups calling itself the "Anti-Commonwealth Games Front" demanded a boycott of the Queen's baton relay and the games, expected to start Sunday. They were holding placards reading "boycott the poverty games" and "we want schools, not stadiums."

About 100 people demonstrated 550 yards from the organizing committee's office in central Delhi.

On Wednesday, Indian activists, upset with what they claimed were racist remarks by Commonwealth Games Federation chief executive Mike Hooper, burned an effigy of Hooper and shouted slogans.

Carrying signs that said "Racist Hooper Go Back," the crowd was upset that Hooper had reportedly made remarks blaming the Indian population for poor games preparation that included incomplete venues and unlivable conditions at the athletes' village for delegations that arrived last week. Hooper has denied making any offensive remarks, and has the backing of Commonwealth Games Federation president Mike Fennell.

With more than 100,000 police on duty in New Delhi as security for the games, the protests were kept under control. And the scale of the security was likely to deter any large-scale repercussions in the capital after an Indian court decision in Lucknow, a 14-hour drive away. The Allahabad High Court ruled Thursday that a disputed holy site in the town of Ayodhya should be split between the Hindu and Muslim communities.

Conflict over the site has set off bloody riots in the past, and India has sent hundreds of thousands of troops into the streets to keep order.

The Times of India newspaper reported the alleged costs of accommodating Hooper after he moved to New Delhi to observe preparations for the games. The costs included a $30,000 monthly bill for a sprawling farmhouse from when he arrived until the end of 2008.

On Thursday, the protest groups said India was a poor country and cannot afford the games.

"This is an anti-poor, anti-laborer, anti-public drama of 10 to 15 days that will make people struggle for years," said Jawahar Singh, who heads a group working for the cause of slum dwellers.

"Many people have lost their homes, many have lost their livelihoods. These games are against those very workers who have built the city," he said in Hindi.

According to a World Bank estimate, more than 800 million Indians survive at less than $2 a day.

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