Indian social activist begins protest fast

Anna Hazare's move follows government's violent crackdown against a similar anti-corruption hunger strike in New Delhi.

    A veteran Indian social activist has started a day-long fast against corruption and the government's violent crackdown against a similar peaceful protest last week.

    Thousands are expected to join Anna Hazare's hunger strike in New Delhi on Wednesday, piling further pressure on the ruling Congress party.

    The party has faced strong criticisism for sending hundreds of police with batons and tear gas to break up an anti-corruption hunger strike by Baba Ramdev, a yoga master, on Sunday.

    Hazare sat on a stage at Rajghat, where Mahatma Gandhi, considered the father of the nation, was cremated. He said his protest was against the weekend crackdown, which left more than 70 people injured, two seriously.

    "It is not a crime to protest against something wrong ... if you want to beat up protesters, it is not right. I do not fear dying," Hazare said before starting his fast.

    About 500 Hazare supporters had made their way through extremely tight security by mid-morning and the protest was front-page news and given blanket coverage on Indian news channels.

    "I am here to support Anna. I was shocked by the way the police misbehaved with innocent protesters during Baba Ramdev's demonstration," Rolly Mishra, a 25-year-old software engineer who had taken the day off work, told AFP news agency.

    "In a democracy, everyone has a right to stand up for a cause and no government can stop us from doing so."

    Anger over corruption

    Anger about corruption is mounting in India after a series of scandals, notably a telecom licence scam that might have cost the country up to $39bn.

    Baba Ramdev, India's most famous yoga teacher with millions of followers, began his fast until death on Saturday, calling on the government to pursue billions of dollars in illegal funds abroad and the withdrawal of high denomination bank notes.

    Corruption has long been part of daily life in India with the country ranking 78th in Transparency
    International's index on corruption.

    But the latest scandals, that have seen a minister jailed and business billionaires questioned, are considered to be unprecedented.

    Hazare carried out a successful five-day fast in April, forcing the government to make concessions on an anti-graft bill to create an independent ombudsman to battle corruption.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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