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India steps up efforts to end Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption protests

In a personal letter to activist Anna Hazare, who is on a hunger strike, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called for talks and a swift resolution to the situation, expressing concern about Hazare's health.

Anna hazare hunger strike 08 23 2011Enlarge
Anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare gestures during a rally at Ram Lila grounds in New Delhi on August 23, 2011. Indian activist Hazare said he was ready 'to die' for India as the government called an all-party meeting to try to break its damaging standoff with the anti-corruption campaigner. Hazare's hunger strike has captured the public imagination in India, triggering huge protests and boxing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's graft-tainted government into a tight political corner. (SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)

The Indian government has held initial talks with supporters of Anna Hazare, the anti-corruption activist who is on a hunger strike, in an effort to end nation-wide protests.

Hazare, an ailing 74-year-old social activist who has been on a hunger strike for eight days, has led protests in an attempt to force the government to strengthen a proposed anti-corruption bill. Thousands of his followers have gathered at Ramlila grounds in Delhi to watch him fast, the BBC says.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh initially ruled out meeting with the anti-corruption activists in Hazare’s camp. Singh has now invited all party leaders to meet Wednesday to agree on a consensus for dealing with the demands of Hazare's supporters.

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Singh also asked his Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, to negotiate with the activists.

Hazare, described as a self-styled activist under the model of Gandhi, has lost more than 13 lbs since his fast began, Reuters reports.

In a personal letter addressed to Hazare, the prime minister called for talks and a swift resolution to the situation, expressing concern about Hazare's fading health.

"Over the last few days, I have watched with increasing concern the state of your health. Despite the differences between the government and your team, I do not think that anybody is or should be in any doubt about the deep and abiding concern which I and our government share about your health, arising from your continuing fast," Prime Minister Singh wrote.

Hazare has called for a powerful anti-corruption law to be enacted, setting up a national ombudsman called a "Lokpal," GlobalPost’s New Delhi correspondent Jason Overdorf reports.

In New Delhi alone, police estimated that as many as 100,000 supporters gathered to protest last weekend, Overdorf says.

The Indian government earlier bowed to the movement's demands that its representatives be included in the process of drafting the law, but the truce broke down over the question of whether the prime minister and the supreme court should be answerable to the ombudsman.

Hazare's group argues that the ombudsman should have supreme authority.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/india/110823/anna-hazare-india-anti-corruption-hunger-strike-talks-gandhi