Indian PM pleads for more time in battle against corruption

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says politicians need to agree on a way to halt corruption.
Supporters of Indian activist Anna Hazare at an anti-corupption rally at yesterday in Bangalore.
Supporters of Indian activist Anna Hazare at an anti-corupption rally at yesterday in Bangalore.

NEW DELHI // India's prime minister said it would take time to pass anti-corruption legislation, as an activist fasted for a fifth day yesterday to demand that his bill be approved.

Anna Hazare told supporters that he felt weaker from fasting but would "fight on" for the cause. More than 10,000 people surrounded him as he sat on a concrete stage in front of a photograph of Indian freedom fighter Mohandes K Gandhi.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, however, said political parties and elected officials needed time to reach a consensus on drafting a "strong and effective" bill.

"We are open to, I think, discussion and dialogue," Mr Singh told reporters, noting the government had already introduced a draft bill for legislative debate. "Our hope is that we can enlist the cooperation of all thinking segments of Indian public opinion."

Hazare - using the same protest tactics as Gandhi - has frustrated the government with demands that it adopt a version of the bill that would also place the judiciary and prime minister's office under the purview of a new anti-corruption ombudsman.

Mr Hazare has captured 24-hour news coverage and given hope to Indians fed up with the bribery and favouritism that are routine at all levels of government. Crowds carrying signs proclaiming "I am Anna" have protested across the country for days in support of his hunger strike.

"The funds in government treasuries are ours," Mr Hazare said yesterday.

"The treasuries are not threatened by thieves but by those who guard it." Hazare said he had lost 3.5 kilograms since starting the fast and felt "a little weak." "The fight will go on," he said.

Mr Hazare has threatened to continue fasting until death unless Parliament passes his legislation by August 30. In India, suicide is illegal, and authorities are required to intervene when a hunger striker's life is at risk.

Mr Singh, without mentioning Mr Hazare or his campaign, said his government favoured strong anti-corruption legislation and hoped for "a broad national consensus to emerge".

Published: August 21, 2011 04:00 AM

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