Indian activist set for public hunger strike

Anna Hazare leaves jail and heads for New Delhi park to stage two-week anti-corruption protest.

    Protests have swelled across India in support of Hazare who vows to fast 'until India is corruption-free' [Reuters]

    Indian activist Anna Hazare has left jail to embark on a two-week public fast over his demands for stronger anti-corruption laws in a move that has left the government stumbling for a response.

    Thousands of flag-waving supporters cheered the 74-year-old as he walked from the gates of Delhi's Tihar jail on Friday - his de-facto campaign headquarters since he was taken into police custody three days ago.

    Smiling and waving, he led the ecstatic crowds in chants of "Hail Mother India" and vowed to pursue his hunger strike protest "until India is corruption-free".

    "Long live the revolution," he said as he briefly addressed the crowd before climbing onto the back of a truck.

    He was then driven off at the head of a slow-moving procession to an open venue in central Delhi where he will stage his fast aimed at forcing the government to bow to his demands.

    'Logistical nightmare'

    Hazare has been granted permission to fast at Ramlila Maidan, a popular rallying site in the heart of old Delhi.

    "None of us is looking at this as a victory, we are not playing games. We are doing this to move the country forward"

    Kiran Bedi, Indian activist

    Al Jazeera's Prerna Suri reporting from New Delhi, said: "There are lot of preparations to be made.

    "It's a logistical nightmare for his supporters who want it to make it as comfortable [for those who want to attend] as possible."

    Protests swelled across India on Wednesday in support of Hazare after his arrest on Tuesday over plans to fast until death.

    Hundreds of his supporters were also briefly detained.

    Crowds outside the prison erupted at news of the deal on Thursday, shouting his name "Anna", singing and waving the Indian flag.

    "Anna wanted three weeks but ... has finally settled on two weeks," Kiran Bedi, one of India's first female police officers and a widely respected figure for her anti-fraud drive, told Times Now television.

    "None of us is looking at this as a victory, we are not playing games. We are doing this to move the country forward," said Bedi, who had also been briefly arrested.

    Nationwide outrage

    Hazare's standoff with authorities has galvanised the nation's anger at official corruption and put beleaguered Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government on the defensive even as it fights off a raft of scandals.

    Al Jazeera's Prerna Suri reports from New Delhi on Hazare's standoff with authorities 

    Bedi said Indian police had agreed to look at extending permission for the hunger strike if needed after the two-week period.

    "We've seen the government retreat into a shell really and it's come out at a very bad time for them as well; they've been facing a lot of flak over corruption," said Suri.

    Hazare fasted as thousands of his followers gathered at key locations in the capital, including outside the jail.

    He has struck a nerve with millions of Indians by demanding tougher laws against corruption.

    His arrest shocked many in a country with strong memories of Gandhi's independence battles against colonial rule with fasts and non-violent protests.

    "He certainly embodies the qualities of Mahatma Gandhi who talked about peaceful resistance; he also says this is India's second struggle for independence," said Suri. 

    "And a lot of people agree with him, they're talking about bringing in a new revolution in this country."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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