Gold eaters: Indians and Sri Lankan held

Gold necklace at store in Mumbai Many Indians buy gold as a hedge against inflation

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Seven people have been arrested at Sri Lanka's main international airport after security checks showed they had swallowed pieces of gold.

It is believed they were attempting to smuggle the precious metal into India and avoid import duties.

The men - one Sri Lankan and six Indians - were about to board a flight to Chennai (Madras) when they were apprehended, officials said.

The men have been taken to a hospital to allow nature to take its course.

A total of 25 pieces of gold were detected.

A spokesman for Sri Lanka Customs, Leslie Gamini, told the BBC that the detainees - who are between 40 and 50 years old - were being fed with banana, curd and pittu, a Sri Lankan dish made of rice flour and shredded coconut.

So far four pieces of gold had been retrieved from two of the men, he said.

"The gold has not been valued or weighed - investigations are going on," he said.

Media reports say the vehicle which brought the seven to the airport has been taken into custody.

India is the biggest gold market in the world. Demand for gold has risen after the recent drop in prices.

Last week India increased the duty on imports of gold jewellery to 15% from 10%, in its latest attempt to curb the demand for the precious metal.

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