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India agrees to protesters’ demand on graft panel

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BANGALORE, INDIA — Thousands of Indians ended their five-day protest against rampant corruption on Saturday after the government agreed to form a joint panel with activists to write a tough anti-graft legislation.

Protesters had demonstrated in the capital’s Jantar Mantar square since Tuesday demanding citizens’ participation in the drafting of a new anti-corruption law. Their protest, which was called “India’s Tahrir Square” by the Indian media and on social networking sites, had sparked a groundswell of support from young people across many Indian cities.

After the government relented and agreed to consult citizens, Anna Hazare, a 73-year old anti-corruption campaigner, ended his 97-hour hunger strike on Saturday amid loud, joyous cheers from protesters in the heart of New Delhi. Television images showed a little girl offering a glass of lemonade to Hazare, who was clad in crisp white handspun cotton clothes and a Nehru cap.

“Real fight begins now. We have a lot of struggle ahead of us in drafting the new legislation,” Hazare told the crowd that erupted in joy. “We have shown the world in just five days that we are united for the cause of the nation. The youth power in this movement is a sign of hope.”

A doctor told all the people who had fasted along with Hazare to drink coconut water or lemonade at least an hour before they resume eating food. He ended his medical advice on the microphone with “Young India, My India.”

The mood at the gathering was festive, with singing and blowing of conch-shells as protesters held up the government’s notification. People shouted slogans and held placards saying “Say No To Corruption.”

Late Friday, the government announced it will form a joint panel including five representatives from citizens’ groups working against corruption, including Hazare. The new joint panel will be headed by Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and an eminent human rights lawyer, Shanti Bhushan.

“I am happy that the government and representatives of civil society have reached an agreement in our mutual resolve to combat corruption.,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a statement Saturday. He added that the resolve to “evolve a consensus to move this historic legislation augurs well for our democracy.”

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