Salman Rushdie pulls out of Jaipur literature festival

Salman Rushdie Salman Rushdie will address the festival by video link

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Author Salman Rushdie has withdrawn from India's biggest literary festival, saying that he feared assassination after influential Muslim clerics protested against his participation.

The author had been due to speak at the Jaipur literature festival.

He said he had been told by sources that assassins "may be on the way to Jaipur to kill me".

Salman Rushdie sparked anger in the Muslim world with his book The Satanic Verses, which many see as blasphemous.

He lived in hiding for many years after Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for his execution.

The author had been scheduled to speak on the opening day of the five-day Jaipur event which began on Friday, but earlier this week organisers said his schedule had changed and took his name off the list of speakers.

"I have now been informed by intelligence sources in Maharashtra and Rajasthan that paid assassins from the Mumbai underworld may be on their way to Jaipur to 'eliminate' me," Salman Rushdie said in a statement read out at the festival.

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The failure of the state to secure Salman Rushdie's protection, many believe, is a shameful indictment of India's politicians and their opportunistic politics of least resistance”

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"While I have some doubts about the accuracy of this intelligence, it would be irresponsible of me to come to the festival in such circumstances; irresponsible to my family, to the festival audience and to my fellow writers," he added.

"I will therefore not travel to Jaipur as planned."

'Stain on India'

The writer later tweeted that he was "very sad not to be at Jaipur" and that he would speak at the festival over a video link.

"I was told Bombay [Mumbai] mafia don issued weapons to two hitmen to 'eliminate' me. Will do video link instead. Damn."

Author William Dalrymple, who is also a festival organiser, said Salman Rushdie's decision to stay away was a "great tragedy".

A cobbler wearing a Salman Rushdie mask polishes shoes outside a mosque during a protest by an Islamic organisation in Mumbai on January 11, 2011. There have been recent anti-Rushdie protests among Indian Muslim groups

"This is a result of a tragic game of Chinese whispers. We hope he will return to the festival," he added.

Author Hari Kunzru tweeted that Rushdie's absence from the festival is "a stain on India's international reputation".

Salman Rushdie was born in India but is a British citizen and has lived in the UK for most of his life. In recent years he has made many private visits to India and attended the Jaipur Literary Festival in 2007.

Correspondents say the protests against this year's planned trip are linked to crucial state elections due in Uttar Pradesh.

Correspondents say no political party wants to antagonise the Muslim community, which constitutes 18% of voters in the state, India's largest.

On 10 January, a leading Islamic seminary in India, Darul Uloom Deoband, called on the government to block Salman Rushdie's visit as he "had annoyed the religious sentiments of Muslims in the past". Darul Uloom is based in Uttar Pradesh.

Meanwhile, the Jaipur festival got under way on Friday amid tight security. More than 250 authors and a number of celebrities are participating.

Tens of thousands of people are expected to attend the festival, which is being attended by authors Michael Ondaatje and Ben Okri, playwright Tom Stoppard, journalists David Remnick and Philip Gourevitch and TV host Oprah Winfrey, among others.

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