Thousands back Indian hunger-strike activist

At least 50,000 express solidarity with Anna Hazare as anti-corruption campaigner fasts for a sixth day.

    Many Indians fed up with endemic bribery in their country turned up to support Hazare's campaign [AFP]

    India's anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare's campaign to pressure officials to curb corruption got a major boost on Sunday with 50,000 supporters joining him to show solidarity as he presses ahead with his hunger strike.

    Protesters camped at an open ground in New Delhi, the Indian capital, chanting "Anna, you keep fighting, we are with you," and "Hail mother India".

    Hazare, a 74-year-old self-styled Gandhian activist, has entered his sixth day of fasting in one of the biggest protests yet - and a sign that his campaign is striking a chord with the masses.

    He said on Sunday: "It's time for another revolution."

    Hazare says the hunger strike, which involves not eating but drinking water, will continue until the government passes a tough anti-corruption bill he champions.

    But the protest has been criticised after his insistence the government introduce this bill on Tuesday and pass it by the end of this month. Critics say his group is dictating policy to an elected parliament.

    Arvind Kejriwal, a leading member of Hazare's team, appeared to reach for a compromise, telling supporters on Sunday: "We are in favour of discussion. We want to ask the prime minister whom should we come to talk to, and when and where."

    His statement came after one of India's foremost civil rights organisations, the National Campaign for People's Right to Information (NCPRI), said it would introduce its own anti-graft bill.

    "I think Anna-ji is ill-advised ... anyone who says my view should be the only view is wrong," Aruna Roy, a member of the NCPRI and one of India's most famous social activists, was quoted by the local media as saying.

    Hazare left jail on Friday to huge cheering crowds and widespread media coverage. He was briefly arrested on Tuesday, but then refused to leave jail until the government allowed him to continue his public fast for 15 days.

    The activists' supporters say he will not fast to the death but a medical team is on hand to monitor his condition.

    Hazare has carried out scores of hunger strikes to pressure governments over social issues in the past few decades.

    Hazare's campaign, popular with the expanding middle-class fed up with endemic bribes, has become a thorn in the side of Manmohan Singh, the prime minister, whose government is dogged by a string of corruption scandals.

    The Times of India on Sunday said that more than one million people had joined its online anti-graft campaign, and other local media said there were more than 500 protests across India on Friday, the day Hazare stepped out of jail.

    One newspaper, Mail Today, criticised the campaign, declaring in its editorial on Sunday: "Team Anna's rhetoric is stopping to make sense."

    The criticism came as Singh, widely seen as out of touch, won some praise on Saturday for saying he was open to dialogue - the first time in a week that his government appeared to have taken an initiative over the crisis.

    In another sign of moves for a compromise, a ruling party legislator has sent Hazare's bill to a parliamentary committee for consideration, meeting a demand of the protesters.

    Several scandals, including a telecoms bribery scam that may have cost the government up to $39bn, led to Hazare demanding anti-corruption measures.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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