India corruption: Anna Hazare leaves jail to begin fast

The BBC's Mark Dummett watched as Anna Hazare was greeted by thousands of supporters

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Indian anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare has launched a 15-day public hunger strike at a park in Delhi.

Mr Hazare told thousands of flag-waving supporters gathered at Ram Lila Maidan, where the fast is being held, that his fight against corruption will continue.

He was released from Tihar jail earlier on Friday after his arrest on Tuesday sparked mass protests across India.

Mr Hazare wants to force the government to strengthen an anti-corruption bill, which he regards as too weak.

On Thursday, the 74-year-old former army driver agreed to a police offer permitting him to go on hunger strike.

He had previously vowed to remain in custody unless he was permitted to resume the protest which triggered his arrest. His campaign against graft has struck a chord with many Indians.

Chanting crowds

Thousands of supporters braved rain at the packed Ram Lila ground to greet Mr Hazare and they showered him with rose petals.

The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder says there is a carnival atmosphere at the ground with people singing and clapping. Young boys on motorcycles waved national flags outside the venue.

The police offer which will permit Anna Hazare to go on a hunger strike in a park for 15 days is being seen by observers as a major climbdown by the government.

But what happens next? There are unverified reports that the government is trying hard to reach a compromise with Mr Hazare, who insists that his version of the anti-corruption bill has to be placed before parliament.

Both sides need to reach common ground and save face. It is unclear how the government proposes to get Mr Hazare's bill into parliament, when its own bill - incorporating many of Mr Hazare's suggestions - is already being examined by a standing committee.

How quickly Mr Hazare calls off his fast - and saves the government further embarrassment - will depend on how fast a deal is worked out between the two sides.

"The youth of this country has awoken, so a great future for this country is not far off," Mr Hazare told his supporters.

"The traitors who have robbed this country will no longer be tolerated."

Earlier Mr Hazare told supporters outside Tihar jail that Indians had not "achieved complete freedom" 64 years after independence.

The BBC's Mark Dummett in Delhi says that unless the government can find a compromise, this fast will be an uncomfortable ordeal.

TV cameras are monitoring events minute-by-minute and critics are scrutinising the government to see if it can come up with a solution.

Our correspondent says that the government's response to the campaign has been confused: Mr Hazare was arrested only to be released days later, and while some members of the ruling Congress party have called him a hero, others have accused him of being corrupt.

Mr Hazare's campaign, in contrast, has been well-run, adds our correspondent. His protest is aimed at what he regards as a watered-down anti-corruption bill introduced by the Indian government.

He was arrested hours before he was due to begin a fast at a park in Delhi. More than 1,000 of his supporters were also detained.

The Congress-led government said the protesters had been detained because they had not accepted the police restrictions on the number of fasting days and participants.

Dispute over Citizens' Ombudsman bill

  • Following a hunger strike by Anna Hazare in April, the government agreed to draft the Jan Lokpal (Citizens' Ombudsman) bill. The final bill incorporates 34 of the 40 principles set out by Mr Hazare, but he and other activists have rejected it
  • Mr Hazare says the ombudsman should have the power to investigate the prime minister and senior judges. The government refuses to include them, saying their authority will be eroded
  • Mr Hazare wants the ombudsman to be able to investigate MPs accused of taking bribes to vote or ask questions in parliament. The government says such probes should be carried out by MPs

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has accused Mr Hazare of trying to circumvent democracy by demanding the overhaul of an anti-corruption bill.

But the spontaneous outbreak of public support has become a matter of deep concern for Mr Singh's administration.

String of scandals

In a separate development, India's upper house of parliament on Thursday voted to impeach a high court judge on corruption charges.

Soumitra Sen was found guilty by the Rajya Sabha of "misappropriating" large sums of public money while a judge at the Calcutta High Court.

If parliament's lower house also votes to impeach him, Mr Sen would be the first sitting judge to be removed from office in India.

India has recently been hit by a string of high-profile corruption scandals which critics say is evidence of a pervasive culture of corruption in Mr Singh's administration.

A recent survey said corruption in Asia's third largest economy had cost billions of dollars and threatened to derail growth.

Delhi map

The BBC's Mark Dummett watched as Anna Hazare was greeted by thousands of supporters

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