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India opposition members detained after chief's arrest

Dozens of members of the opposition Aam Aadmi Party have been detained in New Delhi and sporadic protests erupted elsewhere across India on Friday against the arrest of AAP's top leader for graft, weeks before general elections.

India's financial crime agency arrested Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister of the national capital territory of Delhi on Thursday in connection with graft allegations relating to the city's liquor policy.

Kejriwal's arrest, less than a month before India begins voting on April 19, is a setback for AAP and the larger opposition alliance of which he is a key leader.

All the main leaders of his decade-old party are in jail in connection with the liquor case.

AAP members, including some ministers in the Delhi city government, were stopped by police and taken away in buses as they shouted slogans and sought to march towards the city court where Kejriwal is expected to be produced, TV visuals showed.

Kejriwal had been arrested to stop him campaigning in the general elections, said AAP leader and Delhi finance minister Atishi, who uses only one name.

"This is a way to steal elections," she said in a statement.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal
India's financial crime agency arrested Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Thursday. (EPA PHOTO)

AAP supporters also protested in the northern state of Punjab, the other state ruled by the party, staging sit-ins, shouting slogans and holding placards that read "I am also Kejriwal".

"They can jail Kejriwal but they can't jail his thoughts," one AAP supporter told the India Today TV channel.

AAP activists also staged protests in the eastern state of Odisha, the western state of Gujarat, and in Srinagar, the summer capital of the federal territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

"BJP wants to distract people's attention from their corrupt practices," AAP's Odisha convener Nishikanta Mohapatra told reporters, referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

"BJP knows that an honest leader like Arvind Kejriwal is capable of defeating them. This is why they arrested him."

Kejriwal's lawyers had petitioned the Supreme Court against his arrest but withdrew it on Friday saying they would fight it in the city court first.

The Enforcement Directorate is investigating allegations that a liquor policy implemented by the Delhi government in 2022, which ended its control over sale of liquor, gave undue advantages to private retailers.

The policy was subsequently withdrawn and the AAP government has said no evidence of wrongdoing has emerged in the investigation.

AAP is part of the 27-member "INDIA" bloc, which has dismissed graft investigations against multiple opposition leaders as a politically-motivated smear campaign by the BJP, which runs the federal government that controls the Enforcement Directorate.

The federal government and BJP deny any political interference and say law enforcement agencies are doing their job.

Opposition leaders have condemned Kejriwal's arrest and accused Modi of seeking to squeeze and weaken the opposition ahead of the elections.

On Thursday, the main opposition Congress party accused Modi of crippling it before the upcoming general election by freezing its accounts in an income tax case, charges BJP denied.