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Government, Hazare head for showdown

By The Assam Tribune

NEW DELHI, Aug 15 (IANS): Team Anna Hazare and the government were set for a showdown after Delhi Police refused to let them fast for a stronger Lokpal Bill from Tuesday and the Gandhian's associates vowed they would not back off.

Only hours after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in his Independence Day speech that hunger strikes were avoidable, police said Hazare wouldn't get the green signal as police terms for the protest had been rejected.

Hazare had said he would go on hunger strike at the JP Park near the Ferozeshah Kotla cricket ground here but refused to accept orders that the crowds must not cross 5,000 and the fast must end in three days.

Delhi Police also laid down other conditions, most of which Hazare's close aides dismissed as undemocratic.

"We will go ahead with the hunger strike, let them arrest us," said Arvind Kejriwal, the most vocal member of the civil society led by Hazare, which is bitterly opposed to what it says is a weak Lokpal Bill presented by the government in parliament.

He said Hazare, 74, and others would begin the day Tuesday by paying homage to Mahatma Gandhi at Rajghat.

Special Commissioner of Police Dharmendra Kumar said the police had gone out of its way to accommodate the demands of Hazare, who had originally wanted to stage his protest at Jantar Mantar near parliament, the same spot where his 97-hour fast in April sparked nationwide solidarity protests.

"Now that they have not agreed to the conditions, their entry into this park will be unauthorised and we will take the required legal action," the officer told reporters, referring to JP Park.

Another officer said if Hazare went ahead with its protest, it would be deemed an unlawful gathering.

The Congress-led government denied accusations that it was to blame for the hardening of the police stand but insisted that Hazare would not be permitted to have his way.

"Everything has to be within the rule of law... You can't allow a major gathering in today's circumstances if it is uncontrolled," said Law Minister Salman Khurshid, one of the five ministers who earlier held talks with Team Hazare in a bid to reach a consensus on a Lokpal Bill.

Hazare announced a fast from Aug 16 after realising that the government had rejected a draft Lokpal bill authored by the civil society and presented to parliament its own version that excluded the prime minister as well as an army of junior government officers from its purview.

The police, Kejriwal said, had instructed that no more than 5,000 people could gather at the site, only 50 vehicles could be parked, no tent could be erected, no sound system put up and only government doctors could examine Hazre when he fasts.

All these conditions, he said, were "unreasonable, unjustified".

The restrictions betrayed a "dictatorial and arbitrary attitude", he said.

Kejriwal said while police were entitled to impose reasonable restrictions to maintain law and order, he wondered how a tent posed a security threat.

"It is raining now. Where will people take shelter if there is no tent?And why allow only 50 vehicles to be parked. Why not 100? Why not 75? How have they arrived at this figure of 50? It is completely arbitrary."

"They are creating an Emergency like situation," he said, referring to the 1975-77 years when thousands of political activists were jailed and fundamental rights were suspended.

Hazare had made hunger strike a powerful weapon in his crusade against corruption, until now in his home state Maharashtra. He then spread his wings to Delhi, winning unprecedented support even from the young.

Government supporters have accused him of trying to impose his views on the others -- a charge he denies.

Earlier Monday, Manmohan Singh said in a speech from the Red Fort that the government was taking action on many fronts to fight graft but said, without taking any name, that Hazare should not go on fast.

"We have recently introduced a bill in parliament to (battle corruption)," he said. "Now only parliament can decide what type of Lokpal legislation should be enacted.

"Those who don't agree with this bill can put forward their views to parliament, political parties and even the press. However, I also believe that they should not resort to hunger strikes and fasts unto death."

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