Anti-corruption activist ready to end stand-off with Indian government

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An Indian anti-graft activist whose hunger strike has galvanised millions to hold the biggest protests in decades appeared yesterday to be prepared to end a stand-off with the government, saying he was open to dialogue.

Anna Hazare's statement comes a day after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the government was open to discuss the 74-year-old self-styled activist's demands after briefly detaining him earlier this week.

At least 50,000 people gathered yesterday to support Mr Hazare, who wants a tough anti-graft law. But his insistence that the government introduces this bill tomorrow and passes it by the end of this month has sparked criticism that his group was dictating policy to an elected parliament, putting pressure on him to compromise.

"We have not closed the door of dialogue. We have kept it open. Only through dialogue the issues can be resolved," he told supporters.

His campaign has resonated with millions of Indians, particularly the middle classes tired of endemic bribes and corruption scandals that have touched top politicians and businessmen in Asia's third-largest economy. But his critics, who include novelist and social activist Arundhati Roy, say he is setting a precedent by holding democratic institutions hostage.

On Saturday, Mr Singh, widely seen as out of touch and leading a graft-riddled, fumbling government,said the government was ready to talk. A ruling Congress party lawmaker also sent Mr Hazare's bill to a parliamentary committee for consideration, meeting a demand of the protesters.

Mr Hazare was briefly jailed on Tuesday in a bid to stop him massing support for his fast. But he refused to leave prison until the government allowed him to continue his vigil, in public, for 15 days. He was released on Friday to huge cheering crowds. REUTERS