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Central & South Asia
India PM asks activist to end hunger strike
Manmohan Singh writes to Anna Hazare, saying he will ask for discussion on his version of anti-graft legislation.
Last Modified: 23 Aug 2011 16:27
Tens of thousands of Indians have rallied in support of Anna Hazare, now in the eighth day of a hunger stirke [AFP]

Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, has urged veteran activist Anna Hazare to end his indefinite fast to press for a new anti-corruption legilsation.

In a letter sent on Tuesday to Hazare, whose ongoing fast for the last eight days has mobilised tens of thousands of corruption-weary Indians and left the government scrambling to respond, Singh proposed a series of compromises.

Hazare insists a new government bill to tacke corruption is insufficeint, and claims he will continue his fast unless parliament adopts and passes his own, more aggressive, version by August 30.

In his letter, Singh stressed that parliament's "supremacy" as the sole elected body with the mandate to determine legislation had to be respected.

Nevertheless, "in view of my deep and abiding concern for your health", Singh said he was willing to request that the speaker of parliament refer Hazare's version of the bill to the committee that is reviewing the government's draft.

He also said the committee would be asked to fast-track its deliberations.

"I do hope that you will consider my suggestions and end your fast to regain full health and vitality," Singh said.

The concessions marked a significant shift by the prime minister, who last week had condemned Hazare's demands as "totally misconceived" and a threat to India's parliamentary democracy.

Supporters gather

The 74-year-old Hazare has called his campaign a "second revolution'' and drawn comparisons to India's fight for independence in 1947 from its former British colonial rulers.

Since then, "several traitors have dragged our independence in the mud", Hazare said earlier on Tuesday to about 10,000 supporters at a New Delhi park.

"I'm sitting here to get this country its correct independence.''

Tuesday's crowd was a fraction of the turnout over the weekend and on Monday, which was a national holiday.

The government has scheduled an all-party meeting for Wednesday to discuss the conflict over Hazare, whose aides said they were growing increasingly concerned about his health.

Authorities are required to intervene if Hazare's life is at risk, as suicide is illegal in India.

Some have criticised the hunger strike as undemocratic and verging on demagoguery, saying Hazare was falsely claiming to represent all of India.

Critics have also objected to Hazare's proposed legislation as unconstitutional.

Representatives of India's lowest-caste dalits, or untouchables, planned a counter protest on Wednesday, saying Hazare's proposal offered little to protect the country's poor masses.

'Demands will not change'

Hazare, whose vital signs are constantly monitored by a large team of doctors, has lost 5.6kg during his fast.

Yet the AFP news agency reported tha he was in a feisty and defiant mood when he spoke to cheering
supporters earlier in the day.

"It would be my good fortune to die for the country," he told AFP. "My demands will not change. You can cut off my head but not force me to bow down."

Indian parliament was forced to shut down its morning session amid shouting by lawmakers from the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party demanding Hazare's protest be discussed.

While both the opposition and governing parties have been implicated in major scandals over the past year, opposition leader Sushma Swaraj blamed the government for the country's graft and said "ministers are looting'' millions of rupees.

Source:
Agencies
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