Indian PM Calls on Anti-Corruption Activist to End Hunger Strike

Posted August 23rd, 2011 at 10:35 am (UTC-5)
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India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called on activist Anna Hazare to end his hunger strike being conducted to call for tougher anti-corruption legislation.

Mr. Singh made the appeal in a letter released Tuesday. Government officials plan an all-party meeting on Wednesday to discuss the standoff.

Hazare's fast, meant to spur parliament toward passing tougher anti-corruption legislation, entered its eighth day Tuesday. Doctors say the 74-year-old activist has lost nearly six kilograms.

Hazare told supporters gathered in Delhi that he is drinking water and doing well, with excellent medical supervision. He vowed to continue his fast and called on his supporters to gather at the homes of lawmakers, if necessary, to get their attention. He compared himself to legendary Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi, saying this struggle is a second battle for independence.

Similar protests supporting Hazare are gaining strength in the southern cities of Bangalore and Mumbai, and elsewhere around the country.

Parliament shut down early on Tuesday after loud quarrels broke out over the issue.

On Monday, the prime minister signaled he may be willing to negotiate with Hazare, saying that he is “open to a reasoned debate” on the proposed anti-graft legislation. But Mr. Singh also reiterated that any concern about the legislation should be taken up in parliament.

Earlier this month, India's parliament proposed the creation of a civil institution, known as a lokpal, aimed at lessening endemic corruption in the country. Hazare opposed the bill, saying it did not do enough to hold the prime minister or judiciary accountable.

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

In the past week, thousands of people have gathered in central New Delhi to support Hazare, whose hunger strike has galvanized millions of his countrymen.

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