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Indian government in talks with anti-corruption activist in bid to end 8-day hunger strike
NEW DELHI (AP) ' India's government worked Wednesday to end an eight-day protest fast by a popular activist, and called for all the parties in Parliament to debate his demands for stringent anti-corruption legislation.
Anna Hazare's hunger strike has drawn tens of thousands of supporters to his protest in the heart of the capital and inspired smaller rallies across India.
It has also tested a government beset by controversy after a string of scandals implicated top officials from both the governing and main opposition parties, and revealed billions in lost funds and revenues.
Aides to Hazare held a second round of meetings with government officials Wednesday. Kiran Bedi, a protest organizer, said no deal was reached.
Hazare, 74, indicated he would give up the fast if the government pledged in writing to push for a watchdog with power over the prime minister and judiciary. In the meantime, he refused to let doctors feed him intravenously, and his aides appealed to supporters to pray for his health.
Yet he appeared hearty and defiant Wednesday morning as he addressed his supporters for nearly 20 minutes.
"Until now, the government's intentions are not good. So I have decided until my last breath, until the government gives in to this issue, I will not turn back. I don't care even if I die," he said.
Styling himself after liberation icon Mohandas K. Gandhi, Hazare calls his campaign a second fight for freedom in a country where top officials are regularly embroiled in corruption scandals even as hundreds of millions remain trapped in abject poverty.
About 2,000 people, many with cheeks painted with the Indian tricolor, chanted, sang patriotic songs or beat drums under a huge canopy in front of Hazare's raised concrete stage. Some lit incense in prayer for the activist's health.
"He has made all of us his family, and he is risking his life for us, for India," said Delhi housewife Anjali Jena, 40.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has personally urged Hazare to end the hunger strike and asked Parliament to debate Hazare's tougher version of proposed reform legislation on Wednesday. Singh also sent the finance minister to negotiate directly with Hazare's aides in a sign the government may meet some of his demands.
"There is a crisis of credibility in the country right now," said Arun Jaitely, a leader of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party during a parliamentary debate, a day after his party's members caused a ruckus that forced the assembly to shut down.
More muted has been the criticism against Hazare, with some saying his tactics are undemocratic and verging on demagoguery while falsely pretending to represent all of India. Critics have also said Hazare's more sweeping draft legislation is unconstitutional and undermines other democratic institutions.
Representatives of India's lowest-caste dalits, or untouchables, planned a counterprotest Wednesday, saying Hazare's proposal wouldn't protect the poor masses.
Hazare's supporters dismissed the objectors as agents of a government bent on ruining their rally.
"Those people are all corrupt," said Dr. Probhpal Hundal, a 25-year-old doctor who took leave from his job in the northern city of Amritsar to travel to Delhi for the protests. "It is just a conspiracy of the government against Hazare. We have to protest to make them bend."
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