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Central & South Asia
Indian PM holds talks on Hazare fast impasse
Manmohan Singh seeks help from political rivals to end a public stand-off with anti-graft activist.
Last Modified: 24 Aug 2011 14:19
 Hazare has lost weight, but he refuses to end his hunger strike until a new anti-corruption bill is introduced [Reuters]

Manmohan Singh, India's prime minister, has called for help from his political rivals as the government sought to end a public stand-off with Ana Hazare, the anti-graft activist who is now on his ninth day of hunger strike.

Singh, in an all-party meeting held earlier on Wednesday to discuss proposed anti-corruption measures, told those who attended that Hazare's attempt to impose his own version of the anti-graft bill on elected lawmakers raised issues about "parliamentary democracy that concern us all".

"[I] seek your guidance on the way forward," said Singh. 

He has struggled to react to the sudden emergence of India's biggest civil movement in decades, and his government is widely seen as tainted by a succession of multi-billion-dollar scandals implicating top officials.

Hazare's anti-graft drive has brought thousands of people onto the streets of cities across the country.

Singh told the all-party meeting that the government wanted an effective anti-graft bill, and he appealed to Hazare to call off his hunger strike so all sides could "work together in a spirit of cooperative engagement".

"The fast and his failing health are a matter of concern to all of us," he added, after about 100 pro-Hazare protesters gathered outside.

Hazare's primary demand is that a government anti-corruption bill currently before parliament be withdrawn and replaced by a more stringent version, drafted by him and other civil society leaders.

Singh met opposition party leaders at his residence in New Delhi a few miles from where Hazare is holding his public protest in front of tens of thousands of cheering supporters.

The government sent Salman Khurshid, a minister, and Sandeep Dikshit, a ruling congress party MP, to hold talks with Hazare's supporters on Wednesday and outline a new anti-corruption bill.

"Deriving strength from all of you"

Hazare is staging his protest in a large open-air venue in India’s capital, New Delhi, where tens of thousands of supporters have gathered every day to cheer on the man who has become a symbol of national dissent.

"I have just lost six kilos (13 pounds). There are concerns over my kidney. But I am deriving strength from all of you," he said referring to the crowd of supporters.

Singh wrote to Hazare on Tuesday, urging him to end his hunger strike and offered to cede some of the protesters' demands.

In his letter to the activist, Singh said he was willing to request that the speaker of parliament refer Hazare's version to the standing committee that was reviewing the government's draft.

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

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

The 74-year-old has remained adamant that the government must meet his demands before he will break his fast despite doctors warning about his health.

"We recommended last night that for safety reasons he should be admitted to hospital... but he refused to move," Naresh Trehan, the head of Hazare's medical team, said.

"He initially agreed to us administering intravenous fluids, but then refused later," he added.

Hazare's campaign has galvanised people across the country of 1.2 billion people. Indians have come onto the streets across cities, calling for an end to the culture of corruption.

Source:
Agencies
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