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Indian wrestlers suspend protest after minister promises swift probe of federation chief


By Rupam Jain

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s top wrestlers decided to suspend their protests on Wednesday after the country’s sports minister promised a swift probe of their federation chief who has been accused of sexually harassing female athletes.

The wrestlers had been camping in New Delhi since April seeking arrest of Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) President Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who has denied the allegations.

Last month the protest site was cleared and several wrestlers were briefly detained as they kept demanding action against Singh, who is also a powerful politician and a federal lawmaker.

Olympic medallist Bajrang Punia was part of the wrestling delegation that met Sports Minister Anurag Thakur at his residence on Wednesday, a meeting that lasted nearly six hours.

“The government has assured that they would complete the police investigations against Singh by June 15 so we have suspended protest till then,” said Punia, who won the men’s 65 kg freestyle bronze at the Tokyo Olympics.

Singh, a leader from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party and six-time MP has been accused of sexually assaulting seven female athletes, including a minor.

His lawyer rejected all the allegations levelled by the wrestlers and said Singh was cooperating with the police in the probe.

Olympic medallist Sakshi Malik, Asian Games champion Vinesh Phogat and Punia had to be talked out of plans to dump their medals in a river in protest on May 30.

“Those moments when we were dragged and roughed up by the police were deeply humiliating for all the wrestlers as all we want is justice for seven female victims of sexual abuse,” Punia said.

The rumbling protest and police action against the top athletes have shone a spotlight on government’s staggered pace in dealing with a criminal complaint against a member of their political party.

Sports Minister Thakur, who is also a member of Modi’s ruling party, said the police would file a chargesheet by June 15, and that the wrestlers had assured him they would refrain from any demonstration until then.

“They have asked us to complete the investigation and file the chargesheet by June 15, we will do that,” the minister told reporters.

United World Wrestling (UWW), the sport’s international governing body, issued a statement last week condemning detention of the wrestlers and criticising the “lack of results” in the investigations against Singh.

It has also threatened to suspend WFI if it fails to hold a fresh election this month.

(Additional reporting Sakshi Dayal; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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