Indian guru Sai Baba ‘close to death’

HYDERABAD, India (AFP) – Doctors treating Indian spiritual leader Sai Baba, one of the country’s most famous gurus, said on Thursday his health was deteriorating fast as devotees massed to pray for his recovery.

Police in Sai Baba’s hometown of Puttaparthi, in southeast India, erected crowd barriers and called for reinforcements to control frantic followers who rushed to the hospital where he is being treated.

Thousands of worried well-wishers have converged on Puttaparthi, in Andhra Pradesh state, many of them sleeping out in the open on pavements because of a lack of hotel rooms.
A medical bulletin said the vital organs of the 85-year-old Hindu mystic were “showing very poor response to the treatment” since he was taken into hospital last month with a heart condition, lung congestion and kidney failure.
“Non-functioning of the liver and persistent episodes of low blood pressure are causing great worry to the doctors,” the bulletin said.
Sai Baba is credited by millions of followers around the world with having supernatural powers, including an ability to conjure objects out of thin air, remember past lives and cure terminal diseases.
He counts former prime ministers and presidents, top businessmen and even Indian cricket superstar Sachin Tendulkar among his followers.
Senior Puttaparthi police officer Narasimhulu, who uses only one name, said safety measures had been introduced including a ban on large public gatherings in the town, 450 kilometres (280 miles) from the state capital Hyderabad.
“We have also erected barricades near the hospital to control unruly crowds,” the deputy police superintendent told AFP by telephone.
About 1,000 extra police personnel have been sent to Puttaparthi.
In Hyderabad, state Chief Minister Kiran Reddy met officials to organise crowd control plans as shops around the hospital were ordered to shut down.
“Doctors attending on him are making attempts to save the Baba. Let us pray,” state minister N Raghuveera Reddy — who is not related to the chief minister — told reporters after the meeting.
Sainath Raju, a close relative of Sai Baba, complained he was not allowed to visit the ailing guru.
“There are at least 100 relatives gathered at the hospital but none of us were allowed to see him,” Raju told AFP by telephone.
Raju said senior officials from Sai Baba’s religious trust who visited the guru’s bedside remained hopeful that he would recover.
The present day Sai Baba claims to be the reincarnation of a former holy man, Sai Baba of Shirdi, who died in 1918.
His organisation funds health and education projects in India, including hospitals and clinics that say they are able to cure ailments beyond the capabilities of mainstream medicine.

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