Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalitha dies at 68

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The former film star served as Tamil Nadu chief minister four times

One of India’s most influential and colourful politicians, J Jayalalitha, has died at 68.

The chief minister of Tamil Nadu state suffered a heart attack on Sunday night and died at 23:30 local time (18:00 GMT) on Monday, Chennai’s Apollo Hospital said.

Thousands of her supporters had gathered to pray for her recovery.

The former film star served as Tamil Nadu chief minister four times. She had been receiving treatment for months.

Ms Jayalalitha is revered by many but seen by her critics as having created a cult of personality over the years.

There are fears her death could spark unrest given the extreme devotion she inspires among her supporters, many of whom refer to her as “Amma” (mother).

Earlier reports of her death, which were swiftly withdrawn, prompted scuffles between police and her supporters outside the private hospital.

Indian supporters of the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Jayalalitha react outside the hospital after false reports that she had died in ChennaiImage copyrightAFP
Image captionA false report of her death earlier in the day prompted an outpouring of grief among her supporters

Tributes began to pour in for Ms Jayalalitha as soon as her death was confirmed by Apollo, which had been treating her since 22 September.

Ms Jayalalitha’s party AIADMK – which had earlier lowered the flag to half-mast before hoisting it up once more – also confirmed she had died, tweeting “our beloved leader, the Iron lady of India… Amma, is no more”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among the first to offer his condolences.

“I will always cherish the innumerable occasions when I had the opportunity to interact with Jayalalithaa ji (honorific). May her soul rest in peace,” he tweeted.

Khushboo Sundar, film actress and Congress party spokesperson, told the BBC: “It’s very painful for me. Despite our political differences, I had respected her. We were hoping against hope, none of us wanted her to lose this battle.

“She was a symbol of strength for women like me. She fought against so many odds to make a name for herself in a male-dominated profession like politics. We have a lost a great politician, and a great champion of women’s rights.”

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