Indian activist ends anti-graft hunger strike

A 73-year-old Indian social activist who staged a five-day hunger strike in protest at corruption ended his fast Saturday after the government agreed to his demands over a new anti-graft bill.

Mahatma Gandhi devotee Anna Hazare began a hunger strike in New Delhi on Tuesday, winning wide public support amid rising anger over a slew of corruption scandals that have tainted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government.

The activist broke his fast with a sip of lemon juice.

"Our fight must not end here, we will keep meeting," Hazare said.

"The real fight begins now," Hazare said, as thousands of supporters loudly cheered him, shouting "We are with you."

Hazare said late Friday that "I feel that all of India has won a victory" after the Congress party-led government announced it would accept his demands.

Singh said in a statement Saturday he was "happy that the government and representatives of civil society have reached an agreement in our mutual resolve to combat corruption.

"This is a scourge that confronts all of us," Singh said.

Hazare's main demand was that members of civil society should co-chair and sit on a committee drafting an ombudsman bill which would give teeth to anti-corruption laws, enabling the prosecution of public officials such as ministers, judges and civil servants.

After prolonged negotiations, the government caved in and said it would accept Hazare's demands and introduce the bill in the next session of parliament.

"The fact that civil society and government have joined hands to evolve a consensus to move this historic legislation augurs well for our democracy," Singh said.

"I am pleased that Anna Hazareji (respected Anna Hazare) has agreed to give up his fast," he said.

The use of methods made famous by independence leader Gandhi, who pioneered fasting as a form of protest, and frail Hazare's resemblance to the father of the nation helped him to spread his anti-graft message and galvanise support. Public anger is being fuelled by a series of scandals that have damaged Singh's government.

The Delhi Commonwealth Games last October were viewed as riddled with graft, while the allegedly fraudulent sale of telecom licences in 2008 caused losses estimated at billions of dollars to the national treasury.

Last month, leaked US embassy cables suggested the government bribed lawmakers in 2008 to secure victory in a crucial confidence vote.
 

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