India anti-corruption protesters take to streets

Thousands of people took to the streets Wednesday in India to support activist Anna Hazare, who plans to stage a public hunger strike as part of a mass anti-corruption protest.

Activist Anna Hazare to begin 14-day hunger strike

Supporters of India's most prominent anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare gather in a show of support near the India Gate memorial in New Delhi on Wednesdsay. (Kevin Frayer/Associated Press)

Thousands of people took to the streets Wednesday in India to support activist Anna Hazare, who plans to stage a public hunger strike as part of a mass anti-corruption protest. 

Police arrested the 74-year-old anti-corruption campaigner on Tuesday before he could start his public "fast until death."

The prominent social activist later refused to leave a jail in Delhi until officials agreed not to interrupt his planned protest as long as it stayed peaceful.

Hazare says the current anti-corruption bill being considered by parliament isn't strong enough because it exempts senior judges and the prime minister from investigations.

A supporter of veteran social activist Anna Hazare prays during a candlelight protest against corruption in New Delhi. ((Parivartan Sharma/ Reuters))

The Times of India and NDTV reported that Hazare accepted an offer from police early Thursday that would allow him to stage a 14-day hunger strike beginning Thursday at a public place. There was no word on whether he had left the Delhi jail.

Protests were held Wednesday in several communities across India, reporter Anna Cunningham said, including New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Ahmedabad.

"Do the people in this country have no rights about how an anti-corruption watchdog will work? Is this the end of Indian democracy?" said Prashant Bhushan, a lawyer who was helping to organize the protest movement.

'Put our house in order'

Arun Jaitley, leader of the opposition BJP, said Wednesday it was time for the government to start listening.

"It is a wakeup call for all of us that unless we put our house in order, and this government leads us all in putting our house in order, the people in this country are now becoming restless."

Veteran Indian social activist Anna Hazare waves from a vehicle after being detained by police in New Delhi on Tuesday, just before he was due to begin his public fast. ((Adnan Abidi/Reuters))

Shouting over jeering opposition legislators, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told parliament 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," Singh said. "They must allow the elected representatives of the people in parliament to do the job that they were elected for."

Nevertheless, thousands protested for a second day in cities across India. The protesters, many wearing headbands reading "I am Anna," crossed religious and caste lines and included rich and poor, students, the elderly, eunuchs, housewives, businessmen and the homeless.

Hazare launched a four-day fast in April to force the government to draft legislation aimed at creating an anti-corruption watchdog. The most recent public fast was meant to press the government to implement a stronger bill.

With files from The Associated Press and Anna Cunningham