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Indian activist ends 12-day fast after forcing Parliament to back his anti-corruption plan
NEW DELHI (AP) ' A reform activist has ended his 12-day hunger strike after forcing Parliament to throw its weight behind his crusade against corruption in India.
The 74-year-old Anna Hazare accepted a glass of juice from a 5-year-old girl Sunday, 12 days after he began his fast. Hazare's protest galvanized an Indian middle class disgusted with the corruption infesting nearly all aspects of public life.
Hazare had initially demanded Parliament pass his sweeping proposal to create a powerful anti-corruption ombudsman to police everyone from the prime minister to the lowest village bureaucrat.
However, he decided to end his fast after Parliament accepted some of his demands in principle in a nonbinding "sense of the house" on Saturday.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
NEW DELHI (AP) ' An Indian reform activist agreed Saturday to end an 11-day hunger strike after Parliament expressed nonbinding support for parts of his anti-graft plan, ending a drama that had deeply embarrassed a government plagued by corruption scandals.
The 74-year-old Anna Hazare had demanded sweeping legislation to create a government watchdog, but said Parliament's move was enough to persuade him to begin eating.
"It's only a half victory. Total victory is yet to come," he told thousands of cheering supporters at a protest ground in New Delhi. Hazare, who has lost more than 16 pounds (7.5 kilograms), said he planned to break his fast Sunday morning.
Following a nine-hour debate Saturday, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee told Parliament that the "sense of the House" was in favor of Hazare's demands that the proposed bill ensure greater transparency in governance and include millions of low-level bureaucrats and state officials under its purview.
Lawmakers thumped their desks in support, and the bill was referred to a committee to be debated and revised.
"The Parliament has spoken ... and the will of the Parliament is the will of the people," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told the NDTV news channel.
Hazare had called for a formal vote on the nonbinding resolution, but his aides said Parliament's actions still amounted to a victory for a protest that has attracted tens of thousands of supporters to his demonstration in the capital and more to rallies around the country.
"Now at least the Parliament has had to take cognizance of the people's wish, and that is to wipe out corruption from this country," said Medha Patkar, a protest organizer.
Hazare had initially wanted far more when he began his fast on Aug. 16, demanding the government withdraw its own bill to create a limited watchdog panel, introduce his far-reaching plan into Parliament and pass it with limited amendments by Aug. 30.
Government officials dismissed his plan ' which would let the watchdog prosecute the prime minister, judiciary and state officials ' as unconstitutional and his methods as a form of blackmail anathema to democracy.
Yet, the enormous outpouring of support for Hazare by Indians disgusted at the corruption infesting all aspects of public life surprised top officials and forced them to take him and his reform campaign seriously.
There is a need for "change in the system," Mukherjee told Parliament.
However, he dampened expectations for what the proposed bill could accomplish.
"Does any one of us believe seriously ... that any one piece of legislation, however powerful and effective it may be, however independent and empowered it may be, that piece of legislation will completely eradicate corruption?" he asked.
The government appeared to be flailing through much of Hazare's hunger strike as protest organizers used social media and India's breathless 24-hour news channels to spread their message and gather support.
But officials worked in recent days to retake control of the debate, and Singh's speech in Parliament on Thursday praising Hazare and offering to have lawmakers debate several proposed drafts of the bill, including Hazare's, appeared to turn the tide.
Hazare then softened his stand, asking only for Parliament to pass the nonbinding resolution on a few of his key demands.
Mukherjee kicked off the unscheduled debate Saturday by warning lawmakers they were bound by oath to act "within the constitutional framework, without violating supremacy of Parliament."
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."