Rallies grow across India for jailed activist

Protestors come out in force to support jailed anti-corruption campaigner who has cornered the government.

    Huge protests have taken place across India in support of a jailed anti-corruption campaigner who has been demanding a tough anti-graft law.

    Thousands of protestors turned out on Wednesday after Anna Hazare, a self-styled Gandhian, was arrested a day earlier when he went ahead with his planned protest and hunger strike in the capital, New Delhi.

    Hundreds of his supporters, who had planned to join the protest, were also detained. Hazare's arrest sparked spontaneous demonstrations in cities across the country.

    Spurred by messages on social networking sites, such as on Twitter and Facebook, at least 15,000 supporters thronged to one protest site in central Delhi alone, a Reuters reporter said.

    In northeast Assam state, thousands of farmers, students and lawyers marched. In the financial capital of Mumbai, thousands of people carrying the Indian flag and wearing Gandhi caps chanted "I am Anna".

    In the technology hub of Hyderabad, lawyers boycotted courts, students skipped class and hundreds took to the streets.

    PM defends arrest

    Earlier in the day, Manmohan Singh, the country’s prime minister, made a statement in the parliament justifying the government's handling of the situation but opposition parties were left unimpressed.

    Singh accused Hazare of being deliberately confrontational and undemocratic over his plans to stage the hunger strike.

    Singh said Hazare's intention to fast indefinitely to push for changes to a new anti-corruption bill was a direct challenge to the government's authority.

    "The path he has chosen is totally misconceived and fraught with grave consequences for our parliamentary democracy," said Singh as he was repeatedly interrupted by cries of "shame" from the opposition.

    "It is a wake-up call for all of us unless we put our house in order. The people of this country are becoming restless," Arun Jaitley, leader of the opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, said.

    Hazare, 74, spent the night in jail despite being freed by the government.

    A close aide, who had also been arrested, said Hazare was refusing to leave the jail until he obtained government permission to continue his fast in a park in the capital.

    Police released about 1,500 of Hazare's followers detained for defying the police order not to protest.

    In a pre-taped appeal, Hazare urged his supporters to protest despite his arrest.

    The anti-corruption crusader, who has struck a nerve with millions of Indians by demanding tougher laws against rampant corruption, fasted as thousands of his followers gathered outside the jail.

    "The government really doesn't know what it is doing," Kuldip Nayar, a veteran political analyst, said. "It is bungling, mishandling. They do not know at all how wide and how deep the resentment is."

    Corruption-tainted government

    P Chidambaram, India's home minister, said organisers had refused to guarantee to obey police orders that the rally would be limited to 5,000 people and that it would only last three days.

    Chidambaram denied the government was quashing dissent and stressed that "this government is not against peaceful protest".

    Hazare ended a four-day hunger strike in April after the government set up a committee to draft legislation to create an anti-corruption ombudsman. The committee included Hazare and other non-elected activists.

    The legislation was introduced in India's parliament earlier this month but Hazare demanded it be made tougher to include the prime minister and the judiciary in its remit. The current draft of the law does not include them.

    Hazare's protest comes as the as federal government battles a series of scandals, including the sale of mobile phone licenses and the hosting of last year's Commonwealth Games, which together lost the country as much as $40bn, according to government auditors.

    Many ministers from the current federal government were arrested in the wake of the scams.

    The Indian parliament has been paralysed by anti-corruption protests for two weeks, stalling crucial legislation.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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