Indian PM Asks Hunger Striker to End Protest

Posted August 23rd, 2011 at 12:10 pm (UTC-5)
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India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called on activist Anna Hazare to end his hunger strike and promised that his government will pursue tougher anti-corruption legislation.

In a letter to Hazare Mr. Singh said he would request that the protester's anti-corruption plan be considered in parliament along with a government-backed bill.

The prime minister expressed concern about Hazare's health. The 74-year-old activist, now in the eighth day of a water-only fast, has lost six kilograms but says he is doing well. Mr. Singh said in letter that the government needs Hazare's views and actions “in the service of the nation, from a robust physical condition and not in the context of frail or failing health.”

Hazare's hunger-strike protest, conducted in public in central New Delhi, has triggered huge anti-corruption protests throughout India.

Government officials plan an all-party meeting on Wednesday to discuss the standoff. Parliament shut down early on Tuesday after loud quarrels broke out over the issue.

Law Minister Salman Khurshid met briefly with one of Hazare's aides on Tuesday, but the meeting apparently did not yield any breakthroughs.

Hazare said Tuesday that he has excellent medical supervision, and intends to continue his fast. He called on his supporters to gather at the homes of lawmakers, if necessary, to get their attention.

He has compared himself to India's independence hero Mohandas Gandhi, who practiced non-violent protest, and said the struggle against corruption in India now amounts to a second battle for national independence.

Earlier this month, the Indian parliament proposed creation of a civil institution, known as a lokpal, to reduce the country's endemic corruption. Hazare opposed the bill, saying it would not hold a prime minister or the judiciary accountable for corrupt practices.

Hazare has threatened to continue his fast indefinitely unless parliament passes his tougher version of an anti-corruption bill by August 30.

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