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Indian opposition leader Kejriwal gets further detention in graft case

Chief Minister of Delhi Arvind Kejriwa leaves the court in New Delhi

By Sakshi Dayal

NEW DELHI (Reuters) -An Indian court renewed detention on Monday for key opposition leader Arvind Kejriwal until April 15 in a graft case, his lawyers said, less than three weeks before voting begins in general elections.

In a move that sparked protests last month, India's financial crime-fighting agency arrested Kejriwal, the chief minister of Delhi, over graft accusations related to the city's liquor policy and he was remanded to custody until April 1.

Opposition parties say the arrest, along with government action against other opposition groups and their leaders, shows the government is denying them a level playing field in the elections, charges it denies.

Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) says he has been falsely arrested in a fabricated case, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) denies political interference.

Lawyers for the agency, the Enforcement Directorate, said on Monday that Kejriwal had been non-cooperative and gave evasive replies, asking the court to hold him in custody for 15 days longer, the website Live Law said.

"These people have only one aim, they want to put him in prison during the elections," Kejriwal's wife, Sunita, told reporters, referring to Modi's government. "The people will give a response to this dictatorship."

BJP spokesperson Sudhanshu Trivedi said the court's decision, based on concrete evidence, raised moral and constitutional questions.

The arrest of the high-profile leader set off protests in the capital and the northern state of Punjab, ruled by his party.

The court's decision comes a day after a New Delhi rally by the INDIA bloc, an alliance of 27 opposition parties including AAP, to protest against Kejriwal's arrest, where they accused Modi of seeking to rig the elections.

Regional groups are among the opposition parties also facing action by federal agencies, which they have called politically motivated.

The main opposition Congress party has been hit with large income tax demands it described as a bid to cripple it financially before the elections, an accusation the BJP has denied.

On Monday, in a breather for Congress, tax authorities told the Supreme Court they would not pursue a demand for a tax payment of 35 billion rupees ($420 million) until after the elections.

The party has gone to court to challenge the tax demand, which is in addition to 1.35 billion rupees it has already paid.

($1=83.3570 Indian rupees)

(Reporting by Sakshi Dayal; Editing by YP Rajesh and Clarence Fernandez)