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Indian Parliament expresses support for anti-graft plan aimed at ending activist's fast
NEW DELHI (AP) ' India's Parliament has expressed nonbinding support for anti-corruption proposals that it hoped would persuade a reform activist to end his 11-day hunger strike.
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee told Parliament after a nearly nine-hour debate that the "sense of the house" was in support of a series of policies demanded by Anna Hazare.
Supporters of Hazare had wanted a vote on the proposals but appeared satisfied with Mukherjee's statement. However, his aides said the 74-year-old activist was unlikely to end his hunger strike before Sunday morning.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
NEW DELHI (AP) ' India's finance minister warned lawmakers Saturday to uphold the constitution as they tried to resolve an impasse with a reform activist who has been fasting to force them to pass his version of anti-corruption legislation.
Parliament held an unscheduled Saturday session to debate the broad outlines of a bill that would create a government watchdog aimed at combating the endemic corruption plaguing India.
Government officials hoped the debate, though well short of Anna Hazare's initial demands, would persuade him to end his 11-day hunger strike, which has drawn tens of thousands of sympathizers to his protest camp in the capital. However, Hazare aide Kiran Bedi wrote Saturday evening on Twitter that even if he is satisfied, he was unlikely to end his fast before Sunday morning.
The government has brushed off Hazare's demand that it withdraw its own limited draft bill and, by Aug. 30, pass his plan to create a watchdog that would oversee the prime minister, judiciary and the millions of public servants across the country.
Critics say his bill would be unconstitutional, and have slammed his demands as an attempt to short-circuit democratic debate. Instead, lawmakers discussed Saturday a few of his proposals and whether to pass a nonbinding resolution expressing their support for them.
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee opened the debate by warning lawmakers they were bound by oath to act "within the constitutional framework, without violating supremacy of Parliament."
"Perhaps this is one of the rare occasions when the proceedings of this house is drawing attention of the entire nation and perhaps even outside the nation, because the largest functional democracy of the world is at a very crucial stage," he said.
Mukherjee also repeated the government's request that Hazare end his fast.
After Prime Minister Manmohan Singh offered Thursday to have lawmakers debate several proposed drafts of the bill, including Hazare's, the activist appeared to soften his stance. He said that if lawmakers passed a resolution backing some of his demands ' pledging greater transparency and including low-level bureaucrats and state officials under the watchdog's oversight ' then he would begin eating.
Saturday's session of Parliament was expected to extend late into the evening, with members of all political parties expected to speak.
The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party expressed dismay at the government's proposal for the anti-graft law, which does not include the prime minister and judiciary in its purview. But its senior lawmaker Arun Jaitley told the assembly that "nobody can dispute that Indian Parliament is supreme when it comes to law making."
Hazare, who has lost more than 15.5 pounds (7 kilograms), appeared in front of thousands of cheering supporters and told them that despite his more than 11-day fast, he was feeling "energized" by their support.
"It is not me who is doing all this. God has chosen me to do this work. It is he who is doing all this," he said.
Doctors said they were concerned about his health, but that they would monitor him every hour.
Hazare's hunger strike has brought into sharp focus the anger ordinary Indians feel about the corruption that touches every aspect of life and politics in this country of 1.2 billion.
The government has appeared to be flailing through most of the hunger strike as protest organizers used social media and India's breathless 24-hour news channels to spread their message.
On Friday, the government pushed to regain control of the debate as Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the country's most famous political family, praised Hazare's initiative in giving a voice to citizens angry with corruption. But he said that demanding legislation through a hunger strike "sets a dangerous precedent for a democracy."
Gandhi is the son, grandson, and great-grandson of Indian prime ministers and has been heralded as a possible future prime minister himself.