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Gas victims hold wanted posters of former Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson during a protest in Bhopal in 2004. ((Raj Patidar/Reuters))

A court in India has issued a warrant for the arrest of the former head of the American chemical company responsible for a gas leak that killed at least 10,000 people in Bhopal 25 years ago.

Warren Anderson was the head of Union Carbide Corp. when its factory in the central Indian city leaked 36 tonnes of poisonous gas on Dec. 3, 1984 — the world's worst industrial disaster.

More than 555,000 people who survived the initial disaster are thought to have suffered aftereffects, though the exact number of victims has never been determined. Many have died over the years from gas-related illnesses, like lung cancer, kidney failure and liver disease.

On Friday, in response to a recent appeal by a victims' group, Bhopal's chief judicial magistrate Prakash Mohan Tiwari ordered the arrest of Anderson, who is reportedly living in the U.S. Tiwari also ordered the Indian government to press the U.S. for Anderson's extradition.

Anderson was arrested in India immediately after the disaster, but he quickly left the country. The Indian government has since said it did not know where he was.

In Bhopal, victims and civil rights activists who gathered outside the court cheered at the news of the order.

In 1989, Union Carbide paid $470 million US in compensation to the Indian government and said officials were responsible for the cleanup. Victims accuse New Delhi of delaying distribution of the funds.

The government says its efforts were slowed when Dow Chemical Co. took over Union Carbide in 2001, seven years after Union Carbide sold its interest in the Bhopal plant. Dow maintains that the 1989 settlement resolved the legal case.