- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 16, 2011

NEW DELHI — An anti-corruption activist arrested Tuesday for planning a public hunger strike began his fast behind bars, as his supporters held protests across the country with thousands detained by police.

Anna Hazare’s demand for tougher anti-corruption laws has tested the beleaguered government and galvanized Indians fed up with seemingly endless scandals, exposing bribery and favoritism and paralyzing efforts to address poverty and speed development.

Mr. Hazare, a 73-year-old social activist clad in the simple white cotton garb of India’s liberation leaders, has become an anti-corruption icon by channeling the tactics of freedom fighter Mohandas K. Gandhi.

In April, he used a four-day fast to force the government to draft legislation to create an anti-corruption watchdog. He had planned to begin another public fast Tuesday to press for a stronger bill.

Police barred his latest protest after organizers refused to limit the number of fasting days and participants, Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said.

“Protests are perfectly permissible and welcome, but it must be under reasonable conditions,” he said.

Mr. Hazare vowed to carry on regardless, but he was arrested before leaving for the protest site in a New Delhi park.

He waved cheerfully at news cameras outside his home, as he was driven away to a police mess hall where he began his fast. Later, after refusing to post bail, Mr. Hazare was taken to New Delhi’s Tihar jail for seven days of detention, joining business leaders and three lawmakers who are facing corruption charges there.

His supporters released a video appeal Mr. Hazare had recorded anticipating his arrest.

“My dear countrymen, the second freedom struggle has begun, and now I have also been arrested. But will this movement be stopped by my arrest? No, not at all. Don’t let it happen,” he said.

Thousands rallied across the country, carrying placards calling for a “Revolution Against Corruption” and taunting authorities to “Please Arrest Me.” They decried Mr. Hazare’s arrest as an anti-democratic affront to civil rights. Some donned white caps resembling Mr. Hazare’s with the words “I am Anna Hazare” scrawled in Hindi or English.

Police rounded up at least 1,200 protesters in New Delhi and more than 3,000 in Mumbai, but many were later released. Across Maharashtra state, where Mr. Hazare’s village of Ralegan Siddhi is located, hundreds of people temporarily blocked roads in protest.

Mr. Hazare’s supporters later urged government workers to show solidarity by going on strike Wednesday. The home minister said he hoped workers “will not respond to such a wrong call.”

The governing Congress party accused Mr. Hazare of meddling in politics and hijacking public policy with his fast when he should instead express his views to elected officials.