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Indian PM Hits Out at Anti-Corruption Activist as Protests Swell

A supporter of veteran Indian social activist Anna Hazare is seen with a photo of Hazare over his mouth during a protest rally against corruption in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh Aug. 17, 2011.

As protests swelled around the nation, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday defended the arrest of the country's highest-profile anti-corruption campaigner a day earlier.

Social activist Anna Hazare refused to leave jail after he rejected police limitations on a planned protest, and the government spent much of the day seeking a face-saving compromise.

Thousands thronged New Delhi's Tihar jail Wednesday, where social campaigner Anna Hazare chose to remain despite the government's insistence he was free to go.

He was taken into custody by police Tuesday when he told them he would defy orders to limit the protest to no more than three days in duration and no more than 5,000 people. Mass gatherings in support of Hazare have been swelling in urban centers around India.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh personally addressed both houses of the Indian parliament after the main opposition party warned it would bring the legislature to a standstill unless he explained the arrest.

Much of Mr. Singh's attempt to speak in the lower house of parliament was drowned out by hecklers.

He was more clearly audible in the upper house, where he defended the police decision and accused Anna Hazare of trying to bypass the parliamentary process in pushing an alternative version of an anti-corruption bill.

"Sri [Mr.] Anna Hazare may be inspired by high ideals... however, the path that he has chosen to impose his draft of a bill upon Parliament is totally misconceived and fraught with grave consequences for our parliamentary democracy."

Hazare has long campaigned for what Indians call a "Jan Lokpal" -- a people's ombudsman -- to be enshrined in law. It would be a civil society organization with sweeping powers to prosecute government officials for corruption. A protest that Hazare led earlier this year successfully pressured the government into introducing its own version of a lokpal bill, but he says it is far too weak.

Prime Minister Singh said this week there is no "magic wand" to fight corruption. Senior opposition politician Arun Jaitley told him to show more leadership.

"You don't need a magic wand. All you need, Mr. Prime Minister, is a political will. You evolve that political will inside yourself, and then decide to fight corruption, you will find that you are in a position to fight corruption."

Jaitley says Indians are exasperated by a series of "monumental scams" during the Singh administration.

"Unless we put our house in order, and this government leads us in putting our house in order, our people are becoming restless."

In a separate incident, prominent Anna Hazare supporter and fellow activist Shehla Masood was found shot to death Wednesday in a car in Bhopal, India. She was said to have been on her way to join protests in support of Hazare