Thackeray's failing health fans unrest fears

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Mumbai police stepped up security on Thursday to prevent any unrest as Indian firebrand politician Bal Thackeray was reported to be in critical condition at his home in the city.

Large crowds of supporters gathered overnight outside the residence of the 86-year-old, who founded the right-wing Hindu party Shiv Sena and is widely accused of stoking ethnic and religious violence.

"We have a lot of forces on the roads. Extra measures are being taken," Mumbai police spokesman Nisar Tamboli said. Security was particularly tight around Thackeray's home.

President Pranab Mukherjee cancelled a visit to Mumbai on Thursday, local media said, though no official reason was given for the change in schedule.

Roads were unusually quiet and many shops were closed in the city, which has been celebrating the Diwali festival this week, with some people opting to stay at home or leave offices early.

In the early hours of Thursday, Thackeray's son Uddhav emerged from the house in the suburb of Bandra to reassure the crowds and ask them to pray for his father.

"We are hopeful. You be hopeful. Let's pray," he said."Bal... has strong willpower. We'll come out from the problem. Don't trust rumours. Make peace," he was quoted as saying.

Doctors on Wednesday night had said Thackeray was in a "very critical" condition and on a life support system, but Shiv Sena spokesman Sanjay Raut said on Thursday he was now stable.AFP



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