Thousands Gather to Support Indian Anti-Corruption Activist

Posted August 20th, 2011 at 10:45 am (UTC-5)
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Thousands of people have gathered in central New Delhi to support an anti-corruption activist who has galvanized much of India against the government with his hunger strike.

Anna Hazare, who continued to refuse food for the second day at a public venue, told supporters Saturday that he has lost more than 3 kilograms due the fast that began three days earlier while he was briefly jailed by the Indian government.

The 74-year-old activist has struck a chord with millions of India's expanding middle-class by using the same protest tactics as Indian freedom fighter Mahatma Gandhi. In recent days, thousands have poured into the streets of New Delhi, Mumbai and other Indian cities to show support for Hazare.

On Saturday, the Indian government struck a conciliatory note after previously dismissing Hazare's demands. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said New Delhi was open to “discussion and dialogue'' aimed at reaching a national consensus on fighting corruption.

Earlier this month, the prime minister's ruling Congress party introduced an anti-corruption bill in parliament that would create a civil organization , with the powers to investigate ministers and bureaucrats. But Hazare rejected the bill and called for parliament to pass his version that he says would do more to hold the prime minister and judicial branch accountable.

Analysts say the Hazare has tapped into widespread public anger over what is seen as a pervasive culture of official corruption.

Popular outrage has grown steadily over the past year as a string of high-profile corruption scandals has made headlines in national media. The scandals include the sale of telecommunications licenses at below market value and numerous financial irregularities in India's hosting of last year's Commonwealth Games.