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Mass protest over activist's arrest

Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh has lashed out at the country's most prominent anti-corruption crusader, accusing the fasting activist of trying to circumvent democracy by demanding the parliament pass a reform bill he supports.

Thousands of demonstrators chanting "down with corruption" and "hail Mother India" gathered in a show of support at the jail where Anna Hazare is holding his hunger strike.

Police arrested Hazare on Tuesday to scuttle his plans to hold a public fast and tried to free him hours later. However, Hazare refused to leave the jail unless he was granted permission to hold a public demonstration aimed at forcing politicians to strengthen a draft Bill that would create an anti-corruption ombudsman.

The stand-off has galvanised Indians fed up with the seemingly endless bribery scandals and cronyism and it has flustered Singh's beleaguered government.

Shouting over jeering opposition politicians, Mr Singh told parliament on Wednesday that while Hazare had the right to express his views on the draft Bill, he was improperly usurping the role of India's elected representatives by trying to force them to pass his own version of the anti-corruption legislation.

"The path that he has chosen to impose his draft of a Bill upon parliament is totally misconceived and fraught with grave consequences for our parliamentary democracy," Singh said.

"Those who believe that their voice and their voice alone represents the will of 1.2 billion people should reflect deeply on that position," Mr Singh said. "They must allow the elected representatives of the people in parliament to do the job that they were elected for."

Hazare, clad in the simple white cotton garb of India's liberation leaders, has become an anti-corruption icon by channelling the tactics of freedom fighter Mahatma Gandhi. Hazare began fasting soon after his arrest on Tuesday, and protesters took to the streets of cities across India. The government temporarily detained thousands of demonstrators in New Delhi and Mumbai in an effort to quash the protests.

The government is battling corruption allegations stemming from the murky sale of mpbile phone licenses and the hosting of last year's Commonwealth Games. The main opposition is mired in a multibillion-dollar bribery scandal involving the granting of mining contracts in southern India.

The scandals have embarrassed the government and paralysed parliament, with politicians trading insults and accusations instead of addressing widespread malnutrition and a desperate need for land reform. On Tuesday, parliament adjourned amid screaming between government and opposition MPs over Hazare's arrest.

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