Antigraft crusader in India strikes deal

By Ravi Nessman
Associated Press / August 18, 2011

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NEW DELHI - A renowned Indian anticorruption crusader struck a deal with police early today to hold a 15-day public hunger strike against graft, ending a bizarre standoff at a New Delhi prison where the activist’s brief detention had turned into a sit-in protest.

Anna Hazare’s ordeal has struck a chord with Indians fed up with rampant corruption. Tens of thousands of demonstrators marched through cities across the country to show their support for his demand for a revised government reform bill, while Prime Minister Manmohan Singh accused Hazare of trying to circumvent democracy.

Police had initially given Hazare permission to hold only a three-day public hunger strike, which he refused, but early this morning they relented and agreed to allow him to hold a 15-day protest at a venue in the capital, Kiran Bedi, another protest leader, wrote on her Twitter account.

“Delhi police removed the unacceptable conditions and offered 15 days permission. Anna accepted there,’’ Bedi wrote.

The protest was to start this afternoon.

New Delhi police arrested Hazare on Tuesday to block his planned fast against corruption, but released him hours later. Hazare stopped eating Tuesday and refused to leave the jailhouse, demanding police allow him to hold the hunger strike publicly and indefinitely.

After he struck his deal with police, the hundreds camped outside the jail erupted in cheers, threw flower petals in the air, and shouted “Anna has won.’’

Hazare, clad in the simple white cotton garb of India’s liberation leaders, has become an anticorruption icon by channeling the tactics of Mohandas K. Gandhi.

In April, Hazare used a four-day fast to force the government to draft legislation for an anticorruption watchdog. He had planned for weeks to begin another fast to press for a stronger bill.

While Hazare’s campaign against corruption has strong support within India, critics have raised concerns that his method - embarking on a declared hunger strike to the death - is akin to blackmailing the government.

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