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Indian state tense as Jayalalithaa Jayaram critically ill

CHENNAI: Scuffles broke out Monday outside the hospital where one of India’s most popular political leaders Jayalalithaa Jayaram is on life support after suffering a cardiac arrest.  

Hundreds of police had to hold back supporters of the chief minister of the southern state of Tamil Nadu when they tried to break through the barricades outside the hospital after media reports – later denied – that she had died.

Doctors treating the 68-year-old former film star, who enjoys an almost god-like status in Tamil Nadu, say she is in critical condition and on life support.

Hundreds of devotees have kept a round-the-clock vigil outside the private Apollo hospital in the state capital Chennai since she was first admitted in September suffering from a fever. Their numbers have swelled since her condition worsened on Sunday.

“Our team of expert doctors continue to closely monitor and treat the honourable chief minister. However her condition remains critical,”  the hospital tweeted on Monday.

“The treating doctors are continuing all life saving measures. #GodblessAmma,” it added.

Television footage showed crowds praying for the chief minister, who is known simply as “Amma” (mother), many of them in tears.

“Amma should survive. I won’t mind if my life is taken away, but Amma should live,” one supporter cried.

Jayalalithaa has not been seen in public since September. But the hospital had said her health was improving until she suffered a cardiac arrest on Sunday evening.

The Press Trust of India said police across the state had been put on high alert to maintain law and order, with 1,000 officers stationed at the hospital alone.

Media reports said some Chennai schools would remain closed, while the US consulate in the city said it had suspended services and warned Americans to exercise caution.

Several of her supporters resorted to self-harm when she was briefly jailed in 2014 on charges of corruption.

Jayalalithaa earned the loyalty of many voters in Tamil Nadu with a series of highly populist schemes, including an “Amma canteen” that provides lunch for just three rupees (five cents).

In 2014 she was briefly forced to step down as chief minister after she was jailed on corruption charges.

Her conviction, later overturned on appeal, sparked mass protests and even some reported suicides.

Thousands of directors, actors and producers in the successful Tamil language film industry went on hunger strike to demand her release.

 

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