Indian government struggles with mass protests

NEW DELHI, August 17, 2011 (AFP) – India’s graft-tainted government faced a growing crisis on Thursday, with the country rocked by mass anti-corruption protests that have pitted the prime minister against a popular hunger striker. Rallies continued late into the night across India on Wednesday in support of veteran campaigner Anna Hazare, 74, who remained in a New Delhi jail after being arrested to prevent him starting a public fast in a city park.

Although the police ordered his release, Hazare refused to leave prison until the authorities withdrew restrictions on his planned hunger strike.

His advisers struck a deal with police in the early hours of Thursday morning allowing him to fast for 14 days, aide Kiran Bedi told the Press Trust of India news wire, and he is expected to leave the prison and begin his protest on Thursday afternoon.

Tens of thousands of protesters gathered on Wednesday in Delhi and other cities in a direct challenge to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who said Hazare’s fast was “totally misconceived” and undemocratic.

Hazare’s protest, which is focused on what he sees as a watered-down anti-corruption law introduced in parliament, has attracted support from India’s middle classes as well as