Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Mass protest over activist's arrest

Supporters of Indian anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare gather around lighted candles outside Tihar prison in New Delhi (AP)
Policemen try to put back barricades removed by opposition activists protesting against the arrest of anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare (AP)
Anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare waves from a police van after he was detained on the day his hunger strike began (AP)

The detention of an anti-corruption activist as he began a hunger strike has sparked protests across India, with police rounding up at least 1,200 supporters in New Delhi alone.

Anna Hazare began fasting in custody after police arrested him at home to stop the planned public hunger strike in a New Delhi park, which was certain to embarrass India's scandal-plagued government.

Hazare's demand for tougher anti-corruption laws has galvanised Indians fed up with the bribery and favouritism that has infested government at all levels and become a political distraction, preventing progress in addressing the widening gap between rich and poor.

Across the nation, thousands of people rallied with placards calling for a "revolution against corruption" and taunting authorities to "please arrest me". Some donned white caps resembling Hazare's with the words "I am Anna Hazare" scrawled in Hindi and English on them.

The 73-year-old social activist, clad in simple white clothes, has become an anti-corruption icon by channelling the tactics of freedom fighter Mahatma Gandhi. He had planned the fast weeks ago to press for stronger legislation to create an anti-corruption watchdog, after successfully holding a four-day fast in April to demand a draft law.

Police rejected his protest plans after organisers refused to limit the number of fasting days and participants, Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said. "Protests are perfectly permissible and welcome, but it must be under reasonable conditions," he said.

In a video appeal that he had recorded before his arrest, Hazare said: "My dear countrymen, the second freedom struggle has begun, and now I have also been arrested. But will this movement be stopped by my arrest? No, not at all. Don't let it happen," he said.

A series of scandals unveiled in the last year has embarrassed the government and paralysed Parliament, with lawmakers trading insults and accusations instead of addressing widespread malnutrition and the need for land reform.

Some people have chosen to fast in solidarity and supporters are protesting in cities including Hyderabad and Kolkata. Police also rounded up more than 3,000 protesters in Mumbai, but many were later released. Across Maharashtra state, where Hazare's village of Ralegan Siddhi is located, hundreds of people temporarily blocked roads in protest.

Later, after refusing to post bail, Hazare was taken to New Delhi's Tihar jail for seven days of detention, joining business leaders and three lawmakers who are facing corruption charges.

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