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Police approve Indian activist fast

A renowned Indian anti-corruption crusader has struck a deal with police to hold a 15-day public hunger strike, ending a bizarre stand-off at a New Delhi prison where the activist's brief detention had turned into a sit-in protest.

Anna Hazare's ordeal has struck a chord with Indians fed up with rampant corruption and tens of thousands of demonstrators marched through cities across the country to show their support for his demand for a revised government reform Bill, while prime minister Manmohan Singh accused Mr Hazare of trying to circumvent democracy.

Police had initially given Mr Hazare permission to hold only a three-day public hunger strike, which he refused, but early on Thursday they relented and agreed to allow him to hold a 15-day protest at a venue in the capital, Kiran Bedi, another protest leader, wrote on her Twitter account.

"Delhi police removed the unacceptable conditions and offered 15 days permission. Anna accepted there," Ms Bedi wrote.

New Delhi police arrested Mr Hazare on Tuesday to block his planned fast against corruption, but released him hours later. Mr Hazare stopped eating on Tuesday and refused to leave the prison, demanding police allow him to hold the hunger strike publicly and indefinitely.

After he struck his deal with police, the hundreds camped outside the jail erupted in cheers, threw flower petals in the air and shouted: "Anna has won."

Mr 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 Mohandas Gandhi.

In April, Mr Hazare used a four-day fast to force the government to draft legislation for an anti-corruption watchdog. He had planned for weeks to begin another fast to press for a stronger Bill.

While Mr Hazare's campaign against corruption has strong support within India, critics have raised concerns that his method - embarking on a declared hunger strike to the death - is akin to blackmailing the government.

On Wednesday, Mr Singh told parliament that Mr Hazare was free to express his views, but that he was improperly usurping the role of elected representatives by trying to force them to pass his own version of the anti-corruption Bill. "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," Mr Singh said, shouting over jeering opposition politicians.

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