Man takes off shirt to protest during Manmohan’s speech

NEW DELHI: Security men muscled away a protester who heckled Indian premier Manmohan Singh on Saturday as he was about to deliver a speech defending contentious reforms aimed at reviving a flagging economy.

The man, identified by state media as a court lawyer belonging to a regional party opposing the government’s measures, stripped off his shirt, stood up and shouted anti-reform slogans at an international conference.

Security men pulled the protester away and one security officer placed a hand over the man’s mouth to muffle his shouts as they removed him from the invitation-only event and detained him for questioning.

Singh, 79, waited for the man to be taken out of the conference before delivering his speech in which he said India needed the reforms to restore confidence in the economy and draw much-needed foreign investment.

Singh’s speech followed his televised pitch late Friday for public support for the slew of reforms to further open up India’s still inward-looking economy that has cost his Congress government its majority.

In Friday’s speech, the premier said he had acted in the national interest to stop “a loss of support in our economy” and asked for people’s “trust, understanding and your cooperation” to avert a financial crisis.

The government has announced a string of measures to open up the retail, aviation and other sectors to more foreign investment and cut deficit-bloating subsidies, after policy paralysis and graft scandals dimmed the outlook for India’s once-booming economy.

The moves, of which the boldest is a step to allow foreign supermarkets such as US giant Walmart to set up shop in India, have prompted nationwide protests and the exit of a key coalition ally.

While political opponents accused Singh of selling out the country to foreign interests, the media on Saturday lauded him for his “straight talk” in addressing the difficulties facing Asia’s third-largest economy. (Agencies)