* Anti-corruption activist to fast until death
* Hundreds of thousands join protest
By Henry Foy
NEW DELHI, April 7 India's government held talks
with supporters of a leading social activist on a new anti-graft
law on Thursday, hoping to persuade him to end a fast until
death that has caught the imagination of thousands of citizens
fed up with scandals.
Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi's protests that helped end
British colonial rule, the septuagenarian Anna Hazare launched
his campaign in the centre of New Delhi's business district this
week, demanding that the proposed Ombudsman Bill be strengthened
to make it an effective tool against rampant corruption.
Hazare and a growing band of activists have launched a
multi-city movement to force changes in the 40-year-old draft
legislation to give the ombudsman police-like powers to
prosecute politicians and bureaucrats including judges and
members of the prime minister's office.
"Apart from slight weakness, I am fine. I've lost a little
weight, but I can still carry on for at least seven more days.
I'll never leave the path of truth," Hazare said on Thursday on
the third day of his fast.
Protesters have spread their message on Twitter, Facebook
and phone text messages, and organisers hope a quarter of a
million people will have signed up to a petition on
strengthening the provisions of the bill by Thursday.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's coalition faces a raft of
graft scandals, including an alleged telecoms scam that may have
cost the country up to $39 billion, that have spooked investors
and could dent the government's chances in important state
The government says it has opened "a channel of
communication" with Hazare on demands for activists to sit on a
committee that will oversee the drafting of the legislation.
In a sign of the protest's clout, pressure from Hazare
prompted a key Congress party ally, farm minister Sharad Pawar,
to step down from the group of ministers tasked with drawing up
the anti-corruption bill late on Wednesday.
Singh promised the bill would be passed after his party's
landslide 2004 election victory. Hazare and his supporters have
drafted their own alternative version of the legislation,
calling for the activist to chair the steering committee
Bollywood stars have lent their support to Hazare, who has
spent three days without food on a stage in India's capital city
before scores of live TV cameras. Hundreds of others in cities
across the country have held fasts of their own in a show of
The campaign comes days after police on Saturday charged
former telecoms minister Andimuthu Raja with abuse of office as
part of an investigation into the telecom licence scandal,
potentially India's largest ever corruption case.
(Editing by Matthias Williams and Sanjeev Miglani)