Senior Indian Maoist Azad 'shot dead'


A top Maoist rebel leader has been killed in a clash in India's southern Andhra Pradesh state, police say.

Cherukuri Rajkumar, commonly known as Azad, was killed in a gunfight in Adilabad district, police said.

He was number two in the rebel hierarchy in the state and a spokesman for the Maoists. He carried a reward of 1.2m rupees ($25,721) on his head.

The BBC's Omar Farooq in the state capital, Hyderabad, says the killing is a major blow to the Maoists.

Police said the clash took place early Friday morning in the forest area at Vankhidi. Another rebel killed in the clash is yet to be identified, they said.

Paramilitary deaths

Azad was a member of the central committee of the outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist).

He was associated with the Maoist movement for more than 35 years.

In March, CPI-Maoist had said Azad had gone missing and alleged that he had been arrested by the police.

But the rebels later issued a statement saying that he was safe and back at his hideout.

The killing took place two days after the rebels killed 26 members of the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in an attack in the neighbouring state of Chhattisgarh.

The Maoists, also known as Naxalites, say they are fighting for the rights of rural poor who have been neglected by the government for decades.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described their insurgency as India's biggest internal security challenge.

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