Government Ouster Sought in Indian Tape Scandal

From Associated Press

Opposition lawmakers called India's prime minister a thief and shut down Parliament on Wednesday, demanding that the government resign over videotapes that show officials purportedly receiving bribes to facilitate a fake arms deal.

Punching their fists in the air, the lawmakers stood before the elevated chair of the speaker, pointing angrily at ruling Bharatiya Janata Party legislators.

As Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee entered the chamber, the legislators shouted, "He's a thief!" the Press Trust of India reported.

The scandal claimed its first political victim Tuesday night when Bangaru Laxman, president of the ruling party, resigned after an Internet media company, Tehelka.com, released videotapes of him apparently accepting $2,175.

On Wednesday, Mamata Banerjee, railways minister and chief of the Trinamul Congress opposition party, demanded that Defense Minister George Fernandes resign and threatened to quit the government if Fernandes stayed on.

The government's coalition partners rallied behind Fernandes, saying he need not resign as there was no evidence against him.

After the lawmakers forced the adjournment, Vajpayee told reporters that there was "something fishy" about the tapes' release. He did not elaborate.

The videos show a string of party, Defense Ministry and military officials discussing or receiving bribes from journalists posing as weapons contractors trying to push through an $870,000 deal for hand-held thermal cameras and other defense equipment.

The government suspended army Maj. Gen. P.S.K. Choudhury and three other Defense Ministry officials who appear in the tapes.

"Strict action will be taken against any other official if any delinquency of conduct is established," Defense Ministry spokesman P.K. Bandopadhyay said.

"We are ready for any sort of inquiry," said V.K. Malhotra, a leader of the ruling party.

Workers from the opposition Congress Party held demonstrations in the capital, New Delhi, and other parts of the country, demanding the Vajpayee government resign.

In New Delhi, angry Congress Party workers pulled down billboards outside the ruling party office and set them ablaze. Rival party workers also pelted each other with stones before police dispersed them.

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